More research on women's unique heart risks

Now that studies of heart disease include women, we're learning about "heart-felt" sex differences.

In years past, most of our ideas about America's number one killer — coronary artery disease — came from studying men, even though it's also the leading cause of death in women. Of course, men and women share many risk factors for heart disease — most obviously, cigarette smoking, inactivity, diabetes, and obesity. But research is uncovering important differences between the sexes that can affect diagnosis, treatment, and prevention. Here are some advances in our understanding of heart disease in women.

Improving risk assessment

To prevent heart disease, you need to know who is most likely to develop it. Experts have traditionally used a simple risk-assessment tool based on data from the Framingham Heart Study, a long-term investigation begun more than 50 years ago. This method estimates the 10-year risk of a heart attack by taking into account age, gender, smoking, cholesterol levels, and blood pressure. But research suggests it may fall short of the mark in identifying some women at high risk.

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