Most grownups know the facts of life: That there are two sexes, and that they have certain physical differences. But believe it or not, it’s only been in the past 20 years or so that the medical establishment has acknowledged that women in general experience heart disease differently from men. And it’s only now that the American Heart Association has published it’s first heart disease guidelines specifically for women. The good news is that the 2011 Women’s Guidelines were worth waiting for, and are full of sound advice based on real-world experience. Here are the highlights:
Lifestyle changes – Don’t start smoking. Quit if you do. Women who smoke should be provided with counseling and learn about nicotine replacement therapy and behavior programs.
You should accumulate at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise, and 75 minutes of vigorous intensity exercise per week, or an equivalent combination of both. Engage in muscle-strengthening activities that involve all major muscle groups at least twice a week.
Eat mostly fruits, vegetables, and whole-grain, high-fiber foods. Eat fish (especially oily fish) at least twice a week and avoid saturated fat, cholesterol, alcohol, sodium and sugar. No trans fats. If you have high cholesterol or high triglycerides, consider taking Omega-3 fatty acid supplements (ask your doctor).
Major risk modifications – Maintain a body mass index of less than 25, a waist size of less than 35 inches, and an optimal blood pressure of less than 120/80 mmHg.
Preventive drugs – Medication should be prescribed to women with blood pressure greater than or equal to 140/90.
Leslie Cho, MD, director of the Women’s Cardiovascular Center at Cleveland Clinic, says it is important to talk to your primary care doctor about your risk factors for heart disease. If you have multiple risk factors, your doctor will need to design a specific plan of treatment for you. “For example, rheumatologic diseases such as lupus and rheumatoid arthritis can increase heart disease risk by three to five times,” Dr. Cho explains. “So these patients will need to work extra hard to protect their hearts.