Women Are Heart Smarter, But There's More to be Done

Heart disease awareness among women has grown but more prevention is needed

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) February is American Heart Month, and a good time to think about how you can improve your heart health and live a heart healthy lifestyle.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, and the number of women who know this fact has more than doubled in the last 15 years.

Still, knowledge about heart disease lags with minorities and younger women, according to a new study.

"Eat healthy and exercise regularly to prevent heart disease."

Lori Mosca, MD, director of preventive cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital and professor of Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, led this research.

In 2012, Dr. Mosca and her colleagues conducted online and telephone surveys with more than 1,200 women who were 25 years old and older. They compared these results with data from five earlier surveys.

The current survey evaluated women's lifestyle, awareness of the leading cause of death and warning signs of a heart attack and what they would do if they experienced heart attack symptoms.

Comparing women's views about heart disease in 1997 with those of today, investigators found that 56 percent of women today identified heart disease as the leading cause of death compared with 30 percent in 1997. Only 36 percent of black women and 34 percent of Hispanic women today, however, identified heart disease as the top killer.

In 1997, more women were likely to cite cancer (35 percent) than heart disease as the leading killer.

The report revealed that women age 25 to 34 years old had the lowest awareness rate of any age group at 44 percent.

"Habits established in younger women can have lifelong rewards,” said Dr. Mosca. “We need to speak to the new generation, and help them understand that living heart healthy is going to help them feel better, not just help them live longer. So often the message is focused on how many women are dying from heart disease, but we need to be talking about how women are going to live—and live healthier."

About 61 percent of women polled today said they would take preventive action to feel better, compared to 45 percent who would be motivated to take preventive action in order to live longer.

Racial and ethnic minorities reported higher levels of trust in their healthcare providers compared with whites, and they were more likely to act on the information provided.

Compared with older women, younger women were less likely to discuss heart disease risk with their doctors. Specifically, 6 percent of those 25 to 34 years old would discuss the issue compared to 33 percent of those 65 and older.

Researchers also noted that just over one in four women surveyed indicated that they had depression. Depression can be a barrier to following medical guidelines, according to the authors.

Dr. Mosca said efforts need to be age-appropriate and culturally sensitive to reach younger women and more minorities who are at high risk for heart disease.

"There are gaps between women's personal awareness and what they're doing in terms of preventive steps," she said.

Sarah Samaan, MD, cardiologist and physician partner at the Baylor Heart Hospital in Plano, Texas, told dailyRX News, “It is encouraging that women are becoming more aware that heart disease is our leading cause of death, but many women still haven't gotten the message that heart disease kills nearly 10 times as many women as breast cancer every year.”

Dr. Samaan emphasized that lifestyle choices can help protect women (and men) from heart disease. These include exercise, a Mediterranean diet, not smoking and maintaining a healthy body weight.

“It's not an exaggeration to say that by raising awareness and making simple changes, hundreds of thousands of lives could be saved,” she said.

The study was published in February in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation. The National Institutes of Health funded the research.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
February 21, 2013
Last Updated:
August 16, 2013