If you’re like most American women, you don’t believe heart disease is your greatest health threat. But it is—greater than breast cancer. In fact, greater than all cancers combined. With more than 90 percent of women having at least one risk factor for cardiovascular disease, it’s important to know how to keep your heart healthy and reduce your risk of heart attack and stroke.

Recently there have been updates in two important areas that affect your heart health:

  • Cholesterol-lowering statin drug therapy
  • High blood pressure treatment guidelines

Statin Therapy for Cholesterol

Doctors often prescribe statin drugs like atorvastatin (Lipitor), rosuvastatin (Crestor, Ezallor) and simvastatin (Zocor, FloLipid) for patients with high cholesterol. Statins block a substance the liver needs to make cholesterol. Guidelines now say some people should take statins regardless of their cholesterol numbers. These people include:

  • Anyone already diagnosed with cardiovascular disease. The goal is to prevent another event, such as a heart attack or the need for a coronary artery bypass.
  • Anyone who doesn’t have heart disease but whose risk of a heart attack or stroke in the next 10 years is at least 7.5%, as determined by factors such as blood pressure, age, cholesterol levels, and diabetes.

Therapy under past guidelines was designed to reach target cholesterol levels. But we’ve learned that there’s a lack of evidence to support this approach and strong evidence that the appropriate intensity of statin therapy is a better way to reduce cardiovascular risk. We’ll still measure cholesterol levels to be sure patients are taking their medications.

What Is Considered High Blood Pressure?

American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association guidelines now define high blood pressure (or stage 1 hypertension) as 130/80. Previously, high blood pressure was considered anything greater than 140/90.

Under the current guidelines:

  • Normal: Less than 120/80
  • Elevated: Systolic between 120-129 and diastolic less than 80
  • Stage 1 hypertension: Systolic between 130-139 or diastolic between 80-89

The top number, systolic blood pressure, is the pressure on your blood vessels when your heart contracts. The bottom number, diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure on your blood vessels when your heart relaxes between beats.

Managing Your Blood Pressure

The hope is that most people with high blood pressure will make lifestyle changes rather than take medication. Medication is only recommended for people with Stage 1 hypertension who have certain additional risk factors, including diabetes, kidney disease, or having already had a heart attack or stroke.

There are many ways to lower blood pressure without medication, and you’ve probably heard many of them before:

  • Eat a well-balanced diet, low in salt
  • Limit alcohol
  • Enjoy regular physical activity
  • Manage stress
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Don’t smoke
  • Take your medications properly
  • Work together with your doctor

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