RISK FACTORS FOR HEART DISEASE
Heart disease is the number one killer of women, causing twice as many deaths as all cancers combined. It has also killed more women than men in each of the last 15 years.
Such statistics make it critical that physicians test women for early signs of coronary problems so that they can intervene and prevent cardiac disease. To screen patients, physicians typically rely on the same conventional risk factors used for men: high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, high cholesterol and a family history of heart disease.
But in a study of postmenopausal women - when heart disease most commonly strikes - UIC researchers found that conventional risk factors were not always sufficient to indicate an underlying problem. Results of the study were presented Nov. 14 at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions 2000 meeting in New Orleans.
In the study, conducted between 1993 and 1999, more than 4,000 postmenopausal women (2,000 over and 2,000 under the age of 58) underwent electron beam tomography - a noninvasive test, like a high-speed CT scan, that measures the location and extent of calcium in the coronary artery. Calcium is a component of plaques that can clog arteries, leading to atherosclerosis and possibly a heart attack.
Though UIC researchers found that women with the most risk factors had high levels of calcium in their coronary arteries, the test also showed significant levels of calcium in the coronary arteries of women with no risk factors - in more than a third of the women over age 58 and a tenth of those under 58.
"The study suggests that, by relying on the conventional risk factors alone, health care providers may be missing a large group of women who are at high risk for heart disease," said Dr. Joan Briller, assistant professor at the UIC College of Medicine and lead author of the study.
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