By Eric Steinmehl
April 17, 2013

Heart disease is the leading killer among American women. Here's the top women's heart health news from 2006 .

Turning back the clog
This year, heart experts managed to do something previously thought almost impossible: Using the maximum dosage of the cholesterol-lowering medication Crestor, they were able to shrink the fatty clogs blocking heart patients arteries by about 7 percent over two years.

The finding is significant because its always been believed that atherosclerosis, the buildup of plaque in the arteries, was irreversible, says author Steven Nissen, MD, head of cardiovascular medicine at the Cleveland Clinic and president of the American College of Cardiology. In the past, the best you could hope to do with drugs or a healthy lifestyle was slow or stop the gradual narrowing (although an angioplasty or stent can open up blocked arteries).

The new finding raises the possibility that you can actually reverse the plaque accumulation that starts as early as childhood. It also fuels the growing realization that dropping LDL, or bad, cholesterol to levels far below the 100 milligrams per deciliter thats considered optimal is the best way to prevent heart attacks (the studys participants reduced theirs from 130 to 61). Current guidelines advise that only people at very high risk of a heart attack aim for an LDL level below 70, but Nissen says its possible that someday even those at lower risk will simply shoot for the lowest cholesterol number thats safely possible.

All arteries arent created equal
Think heart disease, and you probably imagine an artery clogged with a chunk of gunk. Thats how cholesterol tends to accumulate in mens arteries—and most womens. But in as many as 3 million American women with a condition called coronary microvascular syndrome, plaque builds up smoothly and evenly, according to the results of a 10-year, National Institutes of Health study.

The usual heart-health-screening tests cant see the build-up, so even women who are in danger of a heart attack or who experience chest pain may be told theyre healthy and wont get treatment, the researchers say. Future studies will determine the best tests to spot the problem. In the meantime, though, women shouldnt assume theyre OK, and docs shouldnt ignore classic risk factors. Keeping cholesterol and blood pressure at healthy levels, not smoking, exercising, and following a heart-healthy diet are key.

The power of diet and exercise
Just three weeks of healthy living can turn back diabetes and lower risk factors for heart disease. In a study of 31 overweight or obese men, half overcame their diabetes or problems like high cholesterol or high blood pressure after following a high-fiber diet and getting 45 to 60 minutes of moderate exercise a day for three weeks. It proves that it doesnt take a long time to see the results of your hard work.

9 Secrets to a Healthier Heart

Groove to jazz, learn tai chi, and cut your risk of heart disease, the top cause of death among women in the U.S. Read more.

Heart Health Step-by-Step

Nearly a half-million women die of cardiovascular disease every year, but they dont have to—the condition is largely preventable and treatable. Heres how to reduce your lifestyle hazards as well as your medical and genetic risks.

Two Little Steps to Less Stress

When you are under stress, your breath is shallow. These tips will help you reduce your stress, get more oxygen to your brain, and reduce your risk for stress-related complications.

This Is Your Heart on Aspirin

It seems like such a simple way to stay healthy: Just pop an aspirin and worry a little less about keeling over from a heart attack or stroke. Research suggests that aspirin may be a wonder drug for many women who arent taking it. Heres how to know if you are one of them.

Why Women Should Worry More About Heart Attacks

More than 450,000 American women die from heart disease each year. Here's what you need to know now.