Heart Disease in Women
Awareness among women about their No. 1 killer is increasing.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for American women, a fact that just a few years ago, most women did not know. A national heart health movement, being led by the NIH's National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) in partnership with many other organizations, has achieved progress in getting women to pay attention to their risk for heart disease. According to a recent survey, awareness of heart disease among all U.S. women has nearly doubled in the last 15 years—from 30 percent to 56 percent. Among African American women, awareness has more than doubled (from 15 percent in 1997 to 36 percent in 2012) and increased among Hispanic women from 20 percent in 1997 to 34 percent in 2012.
Continued educational efforts have contributed to increasing awareness of heart disease among women. For 11 years, the NHLBI has been sponsoring The Heart Truth® (www.hearttruth.gov), a national education program for women that raises awareness about heart disease and its risk factors and educates and motivates them to take action to prevent the disease.
Through the program, launched in 2002, the NHLBI leads the nation in a landmark heart health movement embraced by millions who share the common goal of better heart health for all women.
The centerpiece of The Heart Truth is the Red DressSM, which was created by the NHLBI and introduced as the national symbol for women and heart disease awareness in 2002. The Red Dress is a powerful red alert that inspires women to learn more about their personal risk for heart disease and take action to protect their heart health.
Women's Heart Research: Menopausal Hormone Therapy
One of the most confusing issues for women and their healthcare providers over the years has been the safety and effectiveness of hormone therapy before, during, and after menopause.
To help find answers to hormone therapy questions, the Women's Health Initiative (WHI) was launched by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the 1990s. The resulting WHI Hormone Therapy Trials included more than 27,000 women ages 50-79 who were followed during active hormone treatment (estrogen with or without progestin) for a number of years and with no hormone treatment for an extended number of years.
Among the many findings from the research is that healthcare providers must assess a woman's individual risk status before considering hormone therapy and treat any risk factors discovered. These risk factors include age, the number of years since menopause, high blood cholesterol, hot flashes and night sweats in older women, whether or not a hysterectomy has been performed, and other factors.
One size does not fit all when it comes to hormone therapy and risk of coronary heart disease (CHD). Women should talk to their healthcare providers about their own risk factors. And while the risks-and-benefits pattern is complex, the WHI trials "do not support use of this therapy for chronic disease prevention, although it is appropriate for symptom management in some women," according to a 2013 study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
New Heart Guidelines Released; Talk to Your Healthcare Provider
Your healthcare provider now has new research information to help guide decisions about your heart health. In November, four clinical guidelines were released that focus on assessing risks to your heart, making lifestyle changes to reduce those risks, and managing elevated blood cholesterol and body weight in adults. The guidelines were released by the American College of Cardiology (ACC) and the American Heart Association (AHA), and other professional societies that worked in collaboration with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
Each guideline provides important updated guidance for primary care providers, nurses, pharmacists, and specialty medicine providers on how best to manage care of patients who are at risk for heart-related diseases based on the latest scientific evidence.
"The guidelines, developed by the AHA and ACC in collaboration with and endorsed by other professional societies, provide a valuable updated roadmap to help clinicians and patients manage prevention and treatment challenges in four key areas of concern: cholesterol, lifestyle, risk assessment, and overweight and obesity," says Gary H. Gibbons, M.D., Director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI).
"We appreciate the outstanding work and dedication of the panelists who helped shape the NHLBI evidence reviews, as well as the collaborative contributions of the professional societies, for their extensive efforts to translate and disseminate these guidelines to the public. The guidelines reflect the most comprehensive and rigorous systematic evidence reviews to date on these topics, and we are pleased that the reviews provided by NHLBI-convened expert panels enabled the professional society partners to move with such deliberate speed. The NHLBI looks forward to continuing to develop accurate and timely evidence reviews, fueled by our investment in primary research on cardiovascular disease as well as implementation science to improve public health."
For more information about these guidelines, talk to your healthcare provider.