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With cardiovascular disease now the leading cause of death for women, the American Heart Association and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have issued a joint advisory to help women lower their risk factors for heart disease and stroke.
With cardiovascular disease now the leading cause of death for women, the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) have issued a joint advisory to help women lower their risk factors for heart disease and stroke.1 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease killed 289,758 women in 2013, representing about one in every four female deaths.2
“OB/GYNs are primary care providers for many women, and the annual ‘well woman’ visit provides a powerful opportunity to counsel patients about achieving and maintaining a heart-healthy lifestyle, which is a cornerstone of maintaining heart health,” noted John Warner, MD, president of the American Heart Association. Warner also serves as executive vice president for health system affairs at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
Although efforts have been made to improve heart disease awareness, research indicates that just 45% of women identified heart disease as the leading cause of death.3 Such low awareness is a concern, since 90% of women possess at least one heart disease risk factor. If women’s health providers can reach patients earlier with information such as how to instill AHA’s Life’s Simple seven health habits (stop smoking, eat a healthier diet, become active, lose excess weight, control blood pressure, control cholesterol, and lower blood sugar), they have the opportunity to become the “secret weapon” in fighting heart disease, states Haywood Brown, MD, ACOG immediate past president and F. Bayard Carter Professor in the department of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, NC.
“As the leading healthcare providers for women, OB-GYNs provide care that goes far beyond reproductive health and are in a unique position to screen, counsel, and educate patients on heart health,” said Brown in a press statement. By talking about the risks and actions women can take to reduce their risk, OB-GYNs can help women fight heart disease, he said.
Although hypertension, diabetes mellitus, hypercholesterolemia, and obesity are risk factors that affect men and women, some factors may have a different impact on women. After age 65, research indicates that women are more likely to have hypertension than men. Just 29% of elderly women have their blood pressure managed adequately, compared to 41% of men.4 In addition, women have a greater cardiovascular risk from diabetes mellitus than men do: 19.1% vs. 10.1%, respectively.5
The highest population-adjusted cardiovascular risk for women is high cholesterol, at 47%.1
In the United States, two out of every three women are either obese or overweight, so clinicians must counsel patients on the effect added weight has on cardiovascular health. Additional weight increases the risk for hypertension, dyslipidemia, physical inactivity, and insulin resistance.6 Although physical activity can lessen such risks, about 25% of U.S. women say they get no regular activity.7
The new advisory calls for enhanced cardiovascular disease and cardiovascular risk factor screening in women. By taking a full patient history, clinicians can identify important information about a patient’s risk factors, leading to appropriate referrals.
Use questionnaires to address diet, physical activity, depression screening, and lifestyle choices. Review your chart templates to see that key areas are addressed, such as hereditary risk factors, smoking cessation, and mental health. By reviewing risks, patients are reminded of the importance of healthful lifestyle adherence.
Financial Disclosure: Consulting Editor Robert A. Hatcher, MD, MPH, Nurse Planner Melanie Deal, MS, WHNP-BC, FNP-BC, Author Rebecca Bowers, Author Anita Brakman, Author Taylor Rose Ellsworth, Executive Editor Shelly Morrow Mark, Copy Editor Savannah Zeches, and Editorial Group Manager Terrey L. Hatcher report no consultant, stockholder, speaker’s bureau, research, or other financial relationships with companies having ties to this field of study. Author Melania Gold, DO, serves on the advisory board for Afaxys Inc. and is a Consultant for Bayer.