Women More Aware of Cardiovascular Disease But Knowledge Gap Remains
that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women has grown substantially
since 2000, but a knowledge gap remains, particularly for women younger
than age 45 and for racial/ethnic minority groups, according to an
American Heart Association survey of more than 1,000 women in 2003.
"The tide has
now turned and for the first time women spontaneously cite heart
disease as their leading cause of death more often than anything else,
but there is still a lot of room for improvement," said Lori Mosca,
M.D., M.P.H., Ph.D., lead author of an analysis of the survey results,
which were published this month in Circulation: Journal of the American
results were released along with new guidelines for cardiovascular
disease (CVD) prevention in women. Harris Interactive, Inc., polled
women to determine their awareness, perception and knowledge of
cardiovascular disease in order to evaluate trends since the previous
surveys in 1997 and 2000. The first survey coincided with the start of
a massive public education campaign aimed at women, which appears to be
making headway in several areas, said Mosca, director of preventive
cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University
results are based on 1,024 telephone interviews that were conducted
between June 26 and July 14, 2003, among a national random sample of
women aged 25 years and older (695 white, 127 African-American, 125
Hispanic, 77 other).
American Heart Association statistics, CVD remains the leading killer
of women in the U.S. and the world. CVD kills nearly 500,000 U.S. women
each year, claiming more lives than the next seven causes of death
combined, including cancer.
Heart Association’s first national survey in 1997 found that only
30 percent of women spontaneously listed heart disease as women’s
leading cause of death, a figure that increased to just 34 percent in
the 2000 survey. In 2003, that figure jumped to 46 percent, a
that heart disease is the leading killer of women was nearly twice as
high among white women (55 percent) as among African-American (30
percent) and Hispanic (27 percent) women. Minority women face the
highest risk of dying from CVD.
Wenger, M.D., professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at
Emory University School of Medicine and a co-author of the new
guidelines for CVD prevention in women, said the survey results are
encouraging because awareness is the first step to saving lives.
changes are a very effective way to substantially reduce risk, but to
make those changes a woman must first feel that she is at risk," Wenger
said. "Knowledge gives a woman the power to take charge of her health."
when asked what they consider their own greatest health risk, only 13
percent of respondents cited heart disease, which indicates a
disconnect between actual risk and a perceived health threat that they
might act upon," Mosca said.
women have a good general knowledge of CVD risk factors, they often do
not knowtheir own risks. For instance, when asked whether a specific
activity could reduce the risk of getting heart disease, 90 to 100
percent of respondents recognized that exercise, losing weight,
quitting smoking, avoiding dietary cholesterol and reducing salt intake
are useful lifestyle changes. Yet, about 70 percent did not know their
own levels of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) and high-density
lipoprotein (HDL), two components of total cholesterol.
2003 more women cited two unproven strategies as heart protective than
in 1997. The survey showed that 64 percent of respondents said
antioxidant vitamin supplements (E, C, A) could prevent CVD, although
many studies have shown no benefit. Aromatherapy (inhaling fragrances)
was named by 29 percent as a way to protect the heart and blood
also found that 63 percent of respondents said they were confused about
how hormone therapy affects a woman’s health. The American Heart
Association recommends against using hormone therapy to reduce heart
disease risk. The association bases its position on results from two
large, controlled prospective studies the Heart and Estrogen/Progestin
Replacement Study (HERS) and the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI)
both of which found that combined hormone therapy failed to protect the
heart and might even increase heart attack risk during the first year
of taking it. One in five of the women surveyed reported knowing the
understanding of heart disease was high across racial and ethnic groups
in several areas. When asked as a true-false question, 95 percent of
women overall knew that heart disease develops gradually over many
years and can easily go undetected. Ninety-seven percent of white
women, 91 percent of African-American women, and 91 percent of Hispanic
women answered this question correctly. Yet fewer than half of all
women, 40 percent, consider themselves very well informed or well
informed about heart disease, a figure that is unchanged since 2000.
Those aged 25-34 were least likely to report feeling very well/well
informed (27 percent) and most likely to report feeling "not at all
informed" (22 percent).
Co-authors include Anjanette Ferris, M.D.; Rosalind Fabunmi, Ph.D.; and Rose Marie Robertson, M.D.
Heart Association is partnering with the National Heart, Lung, and
Blood Institute this year on the Red Dress Project, part of a national
campaign by NHLBI called "The Heart Truth" designed to make women aware
that heart disease is the No. 1 killer of both women and men and to
encourage women to take control of their heart health by discussing
their risk factors with their doctors and taking steps to reduce them.