In 1999 the American Heart Association (AHA) published a set of guidelines for heart disease prevention in women and revised them in 2011. What follows are the newer guidelines are based on clinical trials that examined the protective efficacy of lifestyle measures and drugs:
1. Control your weight. If your weight is gradually creeping up, cut calories and develop good exercise habits. Losing and then sustaining weight loss may require more than the recommended 30 minutes of exercise most days.
2. Consider low-dose aspirin. In persons under 65, aspirin is more effective at reducing heart attacks in men and more effective at reducing strokes in women. Women over 65 with other coronary risk factors, should consider low-dose aspirin therapy only if you have or are at high risk for cardiovascular disease—and only if you’ve consulted with your health care providers for potential side effects.
3. Consider statin drugs if lifestyle changed don’t improve your cholesterol numbers enough.
4. If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation, one drink per day. Alcohol increases the risk of breast cancer and other cancers, so consider those risks along with the benefits of alcohol. The National Cancer Institute considers any amount of alcohol too much for women.
5. Ignore previous advice to take hormones to prevent heart attacks. In 2002 the Women’s Health Initiative found that such hormone therapy actually increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, blood clots and breast cancer in older women, average age 63.
6. Treat depression and reduce stress. It’s not normal to feel unhappy most of the time. Seek professional help. Getting regular exercise is also helpful.
If a demanding job or life causes stress, you must find ways to reduce the stress.
7. Know your family history. A history of premature cardiovascular disease in your immediate family substantially raises your risks. Though you can’t change family history, you can address your other risk factors and treat them aggressively.
You may want to assess your 10-year risk of having a heart attack based on your age, gender, cholesterol levels and blood pressure at the government’s National Cholesterol Education Program at http://www.tinyurl.com/risktool
SOURCE: University of CA, Berkeley Wellness Letter, Special Winter Issue, 2012 American Heart Association