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  health > heart > story page AIDSAlternative MedicineCancerDiet & FitnessHeartMenSeniorsWomen

Non-surgical options for women with heart disease

May 12, 1999
Web posted at: 3:36 PM EDT (1936 GMT)

In this story:

Will post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help prevent heart disease?

Will an aspirin a day prevent heart disease?

A very committed approach


By Sherry Lamoreaux

(WebMD) -- Although many women believe breast cancer is their biggest health danger, coronary heart disease is the single largest killer of American women, claiming more than a half-million of them each year. And the danger is greater for women than for men -- after a heart attack, 42 percent of women die within one year, as opposed to 24 percent of men.

Find out if you're in danger of heart disease by assessing your risk factors. If you have more than one risk factor, each amplifies the effect of the others.
  • Smoking
  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Being African-American
  • Family history
  • Past menopause
  • Diabetic
  • Kidney disease
  • Overweight
  • Stress
  • Little or no exercise
  • If you're a woman with heart disease, you can prevent your condition from getting worse, and even reverse it to some extent. Here are actions you can take, and some points worth considering:

  • Quit smoking. Smoking is the No. 1 risk factor, and it affects women more than men. You can cut your risk of a second heart attack by 50 percent or more if you stop smoking.
  • Get your blood pressure into a normal range. Most women over 60 have high blood pressure. Often you can lower it through lifestyle changes alone; if that's not enough, you may want to try medication.
  • Treat cholesterol aggressively. High cholesterol is a greater risk factor for women than it is for men. Your low density lipid (LDL) level should be 100 mg/dL or lower. Get a full lipid profile so you know exactly what's going on. Eat a cholesterol-reducing diet, and consider medication if diet alone isn't enough.
  • Control your weight. Women (and men) who are overweight have a higher risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, and diabetes. Losing weight can help you lower these risks.
  • Treat diabetes aggressively. Diabetes increases your risk of heart disease by three to seven times, compared with two to three times for men.
  • Will post-menopausal hormone replacement therapy (HRT) help prevent heart disease?

    Most doctors are convinced that HRT can substantially lower a woman's risk of heart disease. However, in some studies, there has been a small increase in the risk for developing breast cancer, having a stroke, blood clots, or gall bladder disease. Whether HRT is appropriate for you is a decision between you and your physician.

    Will an aspirin a day prevent heart disease?

    Unfortunately, the studies showing beneficial effects of aspirin were all done on men, although a large trial is currently underway for women. Until the results for women are in, the decision to use aspirin is still largely an educated guess. Don't start taking aspirin without first discussing it with your physician.

  • Pay close attention to your lifestyle. Studies show that doctors are more likely to talk to men, and less likely to talk to you, about the importance of sticking to a low-fat diet, maintaining normal weight, and getting regular exercise. Don't wait for your doctor to tell you -- start today!
  • Get regular exercise. The American Heart Association recommends 30 to 60 minutes, three to six days each week.
  • A very committed approach

    Ask your doctor about the Ornish program, developed by Dr. Dean Ornish, which combines a very low-fat vegetarian diet, moderate exercise, daily stress management, group support, and psychological counseling. Many participants of the Ornish program have reversed their heart disease, but the studies about it have been done primarily on men.

    Copyright 1999 by WebMD, Inc. All rights reserved.

    Coronary Heart Disease: the Male Disease?
    Heart Disease: Rating Your Risks and Taking Action
    Overcoming Heart Disease the Natural Way
    How Can a Heart Attack Be Prevented?

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