Nearly half of US women unaware that heart disease is their primary killer


Women and their physicians are largely uneducated when it comes to females and heart disease, putting women’s health and lives at greater risk, a new study out today shows.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, shows that 45% of US women are not aware that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Even though the majority reported having a routine physical or wellness exam in the past year, only 40% reported having a heart health assessment by their healthcare provider.

As for physicians, only 39% of primary care physicians surveyed for the study indicated that heart disease is a top health concern for their female patients and only 35% bring up the topic during exams with new patients.

“We clearly have a lot of work to do to make women aware that heart disease is a bigger threat to their health than all types of cancer combined,” says Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, Los Angeles, USA.

Patients are not the only ones in need of heart health education, says Bairey Merz, who led the study funded by the Women’s Heart Alliance (WHA), a nonprofit organisation dedicated exclusively to women’s heart health. Bairey Merz also serves as a scientific adviser to the group.

“We also need to work with primary care physicians to make sure they understand how to assess and treat women with heart disease, which often presents with different symptoms than does heart disease in men.”

Noel Bairey Merz

Some of the data from the study was presented earlier this year at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions. The data came from a survey of 1,011 US women ages 25 to 60 and a separate survey of 200 physicians. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4% points.

Results have shown:

  • Only 22% of primary care physicians and 42% of cardiologists felt well prepared to assess heart disease in women.
  • A majority of women reported having a routine physical or wellness exam, yet only 40% reported having a heart health assessment.
  • Sixty-three per cent of women admitted they sometimes put off going to the physician, and 45% said they cancelled or postponed a doctor appointment because they wanted to lose weight.
  • While 74% reported having one or more heart disease risk factors, only 16% were informed by their physician that they were at risk.
  • Twenty-six per cent of women said having heart disease would be an embarrassment because others would assume the woman was not eating healthy or exercising.

“Eighty per cent of heart disease and stroke is preventable, yet women’s heart disease is underdiagnosed, underresearched and underfunded,” says WHA chief executive officer British A Robinson. “It is critical that women ask their healthcare providers to check their hearts, and that healthcare providers know that when it comes to heart disease, men and women are different – women’s hearts are smaller, their risk factors are different and their symptoms may be different. With so many lives at stake, we must make this a priority.”


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