TUESDAY, Feb. 15 (HealthDay News) -- Preventing heart attacks and strokes is very similar in women and men, with a few small but important differences, according to new guidelines from the American Heart Association.
Each year, 55,000 more U.S. women than men suffer a stroke, while men are more likely to have heart attacks.
One strong risk factor for stroke is atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that boosts women's risk of stroke by fourfold to fivefold. To prevent stroke, women should make sure they have consulted with their doctor and are taking the right medications to control atrial fibrillation, according to the guidelines.
Women also have other unique risk factors that can increase their chances of stroke, including pregnancy, taking birth control pills, and hormone replacement therapy during menopause.
Certain pregnancy complications including preeclampsia (high blood pressure and protein in the urine), preterm birth, having a baby that's small for its gestational age and gestational diabetes are associated with later heart problems -- something women and their doctors often don't know.
"We consider pregnancy like a physical and metabolic stress test, and complications are like failing the stress test," said Dr. Lori Mosca, chair of the guidelines writing committee and director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital. "It's an early indicator of a problem, and there is a common mechanism between pregnancy complications and cardiovascular disease, which is metabolic and vascular dysfunction."
The new guidelines for preventing heart disease in women are published online and in the March 21 print issue of Circulation.
Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women, yet only 54 percent of women knew this in 2009, according to background information in the report. Still, awareness is up substantially from 1997, when
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