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New Way to Predict Women's Heart Risk

Study Shows Latest Method for Predicting Heart Disease Risk Is Accurate
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WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Feb. 16. 2010 -- New guidelines for predicting women's heart disease risk, updated in 2007 by the American Heart Association (AHA), work well, according to researchers who put the new strategy to the test.

The guidelines recommend a simplified approach to assessing a woman's heart disease risk, categorizing it as high risk, at-risk, or optimal risk.

The researchers evaluated how well the guidelines worked by testing them with participants in the Women's Health Initiative (WHI), which enrolled more than 160,000 women, ages 50 to 79. Next, they compared it to a commonly used approach for predicting cardiovascular disease risk from the long-running Framingham Heart Study.

''The advantage to the 2007 AHA guideline is that it's simple," says study researcher Judith Hsia, MD,  director of clinical research at AstraZeneca, who conducted the study while a professor of medicine at George Washington University in Washington, D.C.

"One drawback is, it's only for women," she says, although ''there is no reason it shouldn't work for men."

Hsia and colleagues categorized the women from the WHI study as high risk, at-risk, or optimal or low risk, depending on risk factors. (The WHI study evaluated the effect of hormone therapy, diet, calcium, and vitamin D on heart disease and cancers.) Here are the characteristics of each category:

  • High-risk women have known cardiovascular disease, diabetes, or end-stage or chronic kidney disease.
  • At-risk women have more than one major risk factor for heart disease (such as cigarette smoking, poor diet, inactivity, obesity, family history of early heart disease, high blood pressure or cholesterol, evidence of ''subclinical'' vascular disease, metabolic syndrome, or poor treadmill test results).

Optimal or low-risk women have a healthy lifestyle and no risk factors. A healthy lifestyle included exercising the equivalent of 30 minutes of brisk walking six days a week and eating less than 7% of total calories from saturated fat.

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