Updated Heart Guidelines for Women

Earlier this year, the American Heart Association (AHA) updated its cardiovascular prevention guidelines for women, which take into account what works best for women in the "real world" settings as opposed to findings from clinical trial research.

First published in 1999, the guidelines had been largely based on findings observed in clinical research, but that alone, concluded the AHA, didn't take into account the personal and socioeconomic factors that can keep women from following medical advice and treatment. The revised guidelines were published in the journal Circulation.

The updated guidelines aim to reduce the still soaring death rates from coronary heart disease or cardiovascular disease (CVD) in women. According to the AHA, CVD causes one death per minute among women in the United States, approximately 421,918 deaths per year, more lives lost than were claimed by cancer, chronic lower respiratory disease, Alzheimer's disease and accidents combined. Although CVD death rates had been dropping from 1980 to 2007, they're climbing again, especially in women ages 35 to 54, most likely due from the effects of obesity.

Raising awareness of coronary heart disease in women is key to receiving optimal care, according to Lori Mosca, MD, PHD, chair of the guidelines writing committee and a medical advisor for the American Heart Association's Go Red for Women movement.

Starting a dialogue with your doctor about your heart disease risk factors, including illnesses you may have, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, and pregnancy complications like preeclampsia, gestational diabetes, or pregnancy-induced hypertension, is a critical first step in getting the best care. If your doctor doesn't ask you about these risk factors for CVD, be sure to raise them with you doctor, advises Dr. Mosca.

 Staying Heart Healthy

To reduce your risk for heart disease, the AHA guidelines call for these lifestyle changes:

  • Don't smoke.
  • Engage in some physical activity for at least 150 minutes a week.
  • Maintain or lose weight through a balance of physical activity, caloric intake and behavioral programs to achieve an appropriate body weight of less than 25 BMI.
  • Strive for blood pressure levels of less than 120/80 mm Hg.
  • Aim for a diet high in fruits and vegetables; whole grains; fish (especially oily fish like salmon, at least twice a week), and limit your intake of saturated and trans fats, cholesterol, alcohol, salt and sugar.

American Heart Association. "Updated heart disease prevention guidelines for women focus more on 'real-world' recommendations than clinical research."