Carrie Skogsberg: New heart disease prevention guidelines for women

Carrie Skogsberg

The American Heart Association has released new heart disease prevention guidelines for women. While most medical guidelines are taken from research done in a clinical setting, the American Heart Association took "real world" factors into consideration when creating its new guidelines.

"Oftentimes, the patients that are studied in these instances are older and sicker," said Dr. Holly Novak, the medical director of cardiac rehabilitation at Prairie Heart Institute in Springfield, Ill. "The new guidelines took other factors into consideration that occur in women of all ages –– pregnancy, other illnesses, such as lupus, and socioeconomic factors, such as ethnicity."

Pregnancy complications are areas that have not been considered in the past. Gestational diabetes, preeclampsia and pregnancy-induced hypertension can all increase the risk for heart disease, so women are encouraged to talk with their doctors about their risks if they have had these health issues.

"Women who develop high blood pressure or diabetes in pregnancy often continue to have those problems after pregnancy, and this puts them at greater risk of heart disease," said Novak. "Even if the complications go away right after the pregnancy, they are more likely to develop later in life."

Socioeconomic factors, such as ethnicity, can also affect a person's risk. African-Americans have a higher risk for hypertension, and Hispanic women are more likely to become diabetic.

A person's ability to follow treatment from a doctor was also considered in the creation of the new guidelines.

"Many patients have financial challenges that keep them from purchasing their medications," said Novak. "Doctors need to work closely with their patients to help them obtain those prescriptions so they can continue their treatment."

The heart disease prevention recommendations remain the same for women:

  • Avoid tobacco smoke.
  • Accumulate at least 150 minutes per week of moderate exercise, or 75 minutes per week of vigorous exercise.
  • Eat healthy. Enjoy a diet rich in fruits and vegetables, whole grains and fiber. Eat fish at least twice a week and limit saturated fat, cholesterol, alcohol, sodium, sugar and trans-fatty acids.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. Approach weight loss with a balance of physical activity, caloric intake and formal behavioral programs.
  • Maintain blood pressure. The American Heart Association recommends a blood pressure of 120/80 or lower.
  • Lower cholesterol.

The new guidelines also recommend a variety of drug interventions for women who are at a high risk for cardiovascular disease, including therapies for those with high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes.

For more information on the heart disease prevention guidelines, go to

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American Heart Association: Updated heart disease prevention guidelines