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Experts Develop New Risk Assessments for Heart Disease in Women

February 20, 2007

Washington, DC -- New American Heart Association (AHA) guidelines on the prevention of heart disease in women released today identify a woman's individual risk of cardiovascular disease as either high risk, at risk, or optimal risk. The evidence-based guidelines, developed with and cosponsored by The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), refine the different levels of heart disease risk among women. Earlier 2004 guidelines classified women as high, intermediate, lower, and optimal risk based upon clinical criteria and/or the Framingham Global Risk Score.

The updated guidelines are based on a detailed review of the latest scientific research. The classification change recognizes that the average lifetime risk of heart disease in women is very high, making prevention important in all women, and acknowledges that since the first guidelines were developed, there has been a growing awareness of the limitations of risk stratification using the Framingham risk score in diverse populations. According to AHA's recommendations, although a woman may score at lower risk with the Framingham model, a low score does not ensure that a woman is actually at low risk.

"The AHA guidelines provide physicians with valuable tools and resources to assess risks and implement prevention and intervention guidelines in their day-to-day practices," said Clarisa R. Gracia, MD, ACOG's representative on the expert panel that created the guidelines. "It's critically important for women to work with their physician to know and understand what their individual risk level for heart disease is in order to take steps to lower it."

Heart disease is the nation's leading killer of both men and women. According to the AHA, heart disease is responsible for more deaths among women—more than 460,000 deaths every year—than the next five leading causes of death combined. One in three women will develop heart disease in a lifetime, but many women still do not know they are at risk.

"As women's partners in health, we face several roadblocks in the battle against heart disease," noted ACOG President Douglas W. Laube, MD, MEd. "According to the AHA, 36% of women do not perceive themselves at risk of heart disease. Educating our patients about this number one killer and helping them understand their personal risk are significant first steps.

"It is equally important that we encourage women to become more involved in their heart health by making lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking; eating a nutritious, well-balanced diet; fitting exercise into their daily routine; getting adequate sleep; and maintaining a healthy weight."

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists is the national medical organization representing over 51,000 members who provide health care for women.