Health Team

Women Need to Get Early Start for Healthy Lifestyle

New guidelines from the American Heart Association show women need to start earlier to prevent a heart attack or stroke.

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A heart attack or stroke in women does not just happen all of the sudden. It can be years in the making.

Health officials claim risk factors like smoking, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, being overweight and lack of exercise take their toll. That's why new guidelines from the American Heart Association suggest a different way to look at prevention.

"I think the main change in the guidelines really emphasize women's overall and lifetime risk of having coronary disease, heart attacks or stroke," said Dr. Kristin Newby, a Duke cardiologist who was on the panel that developed the guidelines.

Rather than focus on women with known disease, Newby said younger women need to be aware of their lifetime risk. She said you should look at several factors, including follow-up checks for high blood pressure and diabetes.

"You look at family history, and you start thinking about being aggressive about cholesterol screening," she said.

The new guidelines promote daily low-dose aspirin to prevent stroke in all women aged 65 and older regardless of their cardiovascular risk. An daily aspirin regimen in consultation with your doctor is recommended for women of any age who are at high risk for stroke.

Research has shown aspirin can help men avoid heart attack, but for women, aspirin has only shown a benefit of stroke prevention.

The latest research shows two things do nothing to prevent cardiovascular disease -- hormone therapy and supplements like vitamins and folic acid.

"Other than what you get in your diet and following kind of a prudent healthy lifestyle - there's no benefit from those supplements," Newby said.

Health officials said one in 3 women will die of cardiovascular disease. Slightly more women die from it every year in the United States than men. Newby said the more women develop healthy eating and exercise habits at a young age, the lower their cardiovascular risk will be as they age.

The guidelines suggest a diet rich in fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains and lowfat dairy products. They advise a minimum of 60 to 90 minutes of moderate intensity exercise most days of the week for women who need to lose weight or maintain weight loss.


Allen Mask, M.D., Reporter
Rick Armstrong, Photographer
Kamal Wallace, Web Editor

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