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CHICAGO, Sept 23 (AFP) - A simple treadmill workout could help doctors identify women at risk for heart disease more accurately than an electrocardiogram, according to a study released Tuesday.
In a study involving 3,000 women, two fitness readings taken during and after treadmill exercise proved a better guide to which women were susceptible to the disease than a record of the electrical activity of the heart.
Doctors commonly use electrocardiograms to diagnose hidden heart disease in men. The test provides important information about abnormal cardiac rhythm and damage to the heart muscle.
But when researchers reviewed 20 years' worth of data on a group of 2,994 women, they found that a woman's fitness level and the time it took for her heart to return to normal after exercise predicted risk of death better than the more expensive heart test.
The results bear further inquiry given the "great public health interest in cost-effective and readily available tests that can predict cardiovascular risk in asymptomatic women," said Roger Blumenthal, a senior author on the study.
The results of the tests of peak exercise capacity and heart rate recovery provided surprisingly detailed guides to heart disease risk, according to the study in the Journal of the American Medical Association.
After accounting for many risk factors, the researchers found that women who performed below average on the two tests were 3.5 times more likely to die of heart disease than women who had above average scores.
Among women with seemingly low risk for heart disease based on traditional criteria, those with below average scores were nearly 13 times more likely to die of heart disease than those who performed better on the tests.
Death risk increased gradually with each level of poorer performance, and researchers noted the difference as early as one year after the treadmill test.
Blumenthal, a director of preventive cardiology at Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in Baltimore, Maryland, said that the tests could be used in conjunction with conventional screening and profiling methods to identify women at risk for hidden heart disease.
The study was based on data from the National Lipid Research Clinics Prevalence Study that tracked almost 3,000 women at 10 US medical centers from 1972-6.
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