Most notably, pregnancy complications such as preeclampsia, pregnancy-induced hypertension and gestational diabetes have been added as additional risk factors for heart attack and stroke.
“If women have had a history of preeclampsia, they are at twice the risk of having cardiovascular disease as they age,” says Jennifer Lawton, MD, Washington University cardiac surgeon at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. “They should be referred to a cardiologist to be treated as a patient at higher risk of cardiovascular disease.”
Another change was for treatment of atrial fibrillation and stroke in women. Atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm, was found to increase risk of stroke by fourfold to fivefold. The new guidelines encourage women to consult with their doctor to ensure they are taking the right medications to control atrial fibrillation.
In addition, there were added changes to daily exercise as the guidelines indicate two of three American women are considered obese.
“Overall, these guidelines indicate a woman should ask her physician about her glucose levels, blood pressure, lipid levels, find out if weight is at a normal range and let her physician know about any complications with pregnancy so a physician can get a more global assessment of risk for the next five to ten years,” says Dr. Lawton.
The new guidelines for preventing heart disease in women are published online and in the March 21 print issue of Circulation.
“Cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of women in this country – more than all cancers combined – and women should know they may have atypical symptoms compared to men such as fatigue, abdominal fatigue that many women may attribute just to getting older,” says Dr. Lawton.