New Method to Identify Heart Disease Risk in Women

By: Chris Marshall

Researchers in America say they have developed a more accurate method of predicting if a woman is at risk of heart disease. Current methods to predict heart disease are now over 40 years old and these often failed to identify women who are at risk.

The new Reynolds Risk Score considers more than just traditional risk factors such as age, blood pressure, cholesterol level and smoking. It also considers parental history of heart attack before the age of 60, and levels of C-reactive protein, which has been linked to clogged arteries and damage to blood vessels in the heart. It is hoped that this new method will help to predict the 10-year risk of heart disease.

The researchers, from Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston, found that the current risk assessment measures failed to spot up to 20% of women who suffered from heart disease, but did not display any of the traditional risk factors. They now hope that their work will lead to more at-risk women being identified and offered drugs, and lifestyle interventions to reduce their risk. When they applied the new system, they found many women rated under the old measures of having a 10-year risk of heart disease of less than 20% had to be reclassified. In some cases the risk was increased, but in others it came down.

Roger Blumenthal from the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, welcomed the new assessment system. He said: "Physicians should incorporate these factors into their testing and decision-making about which women are most likely to develop cardiovascular disease and physicians should intervene with lifestyle changes and drug treatment before symptoms start to appear. Our best means of prevention is through early identification of those most at risk."

Judy O'Sullivan, a cardiac nurse at the British Heart Foundation, said that it was not standard practice to take account of C-reactive protein levels during assessment in primary care in the UK.
She said various assessment methods were used in the UK, but none were perfect. The key, she said, was to get women to present themselves for assessment in the first place.

"Many women don't recognise heart disease as being an issue for them. In women it tends to be an older person's disease, and quite often women have developed other conditions which can cause pain, such as diabetes, by the time they develop heart problems, so they put any pain down to something else," she said.

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