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Women: Know Your Risk Factors for Heart Disease

Step No. 4: Choose a Healthy Lifestyle
A healthy, low-fat diet can reduce the risk for heart disease.
A healthy, low-fat diet can reduce the risk for heart disease.
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The medical evidence overwhelmingly shows that healthy lifestyle changes can reduce your incidence of heart disease.

A landmark study published in 2000 reported that patients who aggressively pursued a heart-healthy lifestyle, including a low-fat diet, no smoking, stress management and aerobic exercise, substantially reduced their risk for heart attack, cardiac surgery and death.

Other studies show that men and women of all ages who have low cholesterol and are non-diabetic, non-hypertensive and non-smokers have 92 percent fewer heart attacks than people with these risk factors. In addition, there is a significant decrease in their risk of stroke and cancer.

Being your own "medical manager" is important as well. Most women depend on their obstetricians or gynecologists for their health-care needs. While it's important to continue routine gynecologic care, more women need generalized care, too.

Choosing an internist or family physician is the best place to start. Ask your doctor about routine screening for common diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, and breast and colon cancer.

Dr. Dolan is an attending physician and clinical instructor in emergency medicine at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. She has a particular interest in women's health.