Many Women Unaware of Heart Disease Threat

Social stigma is a major barrier to seeking treatment

Women & Heart Disease

Cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women in the United States. But a recent study shows that many women are unaware of this fact — and worse — they don’t see cardiovascular disease as a top health concern.

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Part of the study, conducted by the Women’s Heart Alliance, involved a nationwide survey of 1,011 women ages 25 to 60. Among the findings:

  • 45 percent were unaware that cardiovascular disease is the No. 1 killer of women
  • 45 percent said it was common for them to cancel or postpone a physician appointment until they lost weight
  • Nearly 71 percent of women almost never raised the issue of heart health with their physicians, and assumed their doctors would raise the issue if there was a problem
  • A majority of women reported having a routine physical or wellness exam in the past year, but only 40 percent reported having a heart health assessment.

Additionally, many women reported being embarrassed or overwhelmed by their heart disease and many also cited difficulties in losing weight or finding time to exercise. The researchers concluded that women place insufficient emphasis on cardiovascular disease and that social stigma, particularly regarding body weight, are major barriers to women seeking treatment.

Why women may neglect heart health

Many times, women are so focused on reproductive health during their childbearing years that it’s easy to neglect other health care needs, says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. Dr. Cho did not take part in the study.

As a result, many women may skip their yearly visit with their primary care doctor.

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This is a missed opportunity for these women to know where they stand when it comes to their heart disease risk, Dr. Cho says.

Know your risk factors

There are important heart disease risk factors that every woman should know, Dr. Cho says. They include having high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, diabetes and/or being overweight.

You can’t change your family history, but every year, all women should have her blood pressure, cholesterol and have fasting glucose checked if she’s overweight or at increased risk for diabetes, Dr. Cho says. In addition, she says, take steps to get or keep your numbers in a healthy range. And if you smoke, stop.

“The number one risk factor for heart disease is smoking. So if you’re smoking, you need to quit,” Dr. Cho says.

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It’s also important to know your family’s heart health history. People who are at an increased risk for heart disease have a primary family member — meaning a mother, father, brothers or sisters — who have had heart disease before the age of 55 for men, or before age 65 for women.

A longer, better life

Changes made now can impact a woman’s life 20 years down the road, Dr. Cho says. You can be rewarded with a longer life, and a better quality of life.

“Heart disease can be prevented by eating well and by exercising,” she says. “And even if you have heart disease, the quality of your life can be better by doing good primary prevention.”

Results appeared in Journal of American College of Cardiology.

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