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7 Medical Breakthroughs for Women

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6. Predicting Heart Attacks

A new chart that determines a woman's fitness level can aid doctors in identifying those most at risk of dying from a heart attack. This simple advance has enormous implications: Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the U.S.; half a million die from it every year.

Doctors have long known that one of the best ways to determine whether a patient is at risk is to check her fitness level with a cardiac treadmill stress test. However, the guidelines they used were based on the amount of exercise men could do. As a result, "many women were incorrectly diagnosed as being below their fitness level -- and therefore at higher risk for a heart attack or death from cardiovascular diseases when they weren't," says Martha Gulati, MD, a cardiologist at Northwestern's Feinberg School of Medicine.

Last year, Dr. Gulati and her colleagues decided to do something about this problem. By analyzing the stress treadmill tests of more than 10,000 women, they determined the normal fitness level for women at different ages. They discovered that those whose exercise capacity was less than 85 percent of what it should be were two times more likely to die of heart disease.

The new guidelines are 15 percent more accurate than previous standards in identifying women at risk. "This information is vitally important to help prevent premature deaths," says Dr. Gulati.

If you suffer from symptoms such as chest pain, a pounding heart, or difficulty breathing, ask your doctor to perform a routine cardiac treadmill test using the new standards. Based on your fitness level, he or she will prescribe a potentially lifesaving exercise program.

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