Some Women Lacked Heart Disease Awareness

Heart disease risk was high in many women in recent study

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Awareness of heart disease symptoms and risk factors can save lives. But a recent study showed that some women were lacking this vital knowledge.

The symptoms of heart disease are different between men and women, and they have been studied more in men. Researchers surveyed women to find out if they were aware of the symptoms and risk factors of heart disease in women.

The research found that less than half of the women surveyed knew the main symptoms.

"Have regular heart health checkups."

The study was conducted by Lisa A. McDonnell, MSc, MBA, from the Division of Prevention and Rehabilitation at the University of Ottawa Heart Institute in Ontario, and colleagues.

The researchers surveyed 1,654 Canadian women older than 25. The surveys gathered information on the women’s knowledge about heart disease and heart disease risk.

The surveys covered topics like what lifestyle and health factors might help prevent or affect the development of heart disease, such as healthy diet, regular doctor visits, healthy weight, stress management, stopping smoking and controlling blood pressure.

Slightly less than 50 percent of the women named smoking as a heart disease risk factor, while less than 25 percent named high cholesterol or high blood pressure.

Based on how the women ranked the heart disease risk factors, the researchers placed the women into three categories — 25 percent had low knowledge, 45 percent had medium knowledge and 30 percent had high knowledge.

The women were also asked to name the symptoms of heart disease and to rate their own risk level for developing it.

Results showed that 43 percent of the women named chest pain, 38 percent identified breathing problems, and 29 percent said pain spreading from the shoulder, neck or arm were symptoms of heart problems.

Based on these responses, the researchers classified 30 percent of the women as having little knowledge of heart disease symptoms.

The researchers estimated the medical risk factors for heart disease in the women and found that 17 percent of the women were at high risk, 25 percent were at moderate risk and 58 percent were at low risk of heart disease.

Fifteen percent of the women underestimated their risk of heart disease based on their medical risk factors.

Analysis of the women’s lifestyle factors put 40 percent at high risk for heart disease, 34 percent at medium risk and 26 percent at low risk.

About 39 percent of the women underestimated their risk of heart disease based on their lifestyle.

This study was limited by the fact that the women’s risk was determined with information they self-reported, the researchers noted. Additionally, only about 12 percent of the total number of women who were sent surveys responded.

“Most women lack knowledge of heart disease symptoms and risk factors, and significant proportions are unaware of their own risk status,” the researchers wrote. “Furthermore, many who are at risk of developing heart disease due to the life-style practices are unaware of their risk, and of [steps to decrease risk] that could be taken."

The authors said the findings presented an opportunity for doctors to offer guidance about lifestyle changes and other measures that could help lower heart disease risk in women.

"Women are under-studied, under-diagnosed, and under-treated because of a lack of public and professional awareness of women's coronary risk," McDonnell said in a press release. "The findings show that we absolutely need to increase awareness and knowledge, and to correct misperceptions concerning the incidence, prevalence, and significance of cardiovascular disease among women and health care providers."

The research study was published in the the July issue of the Canadian Journal of Cardiology.

The Ottawa Heart Institute Foundation's Women’s Heart Health Campaign provided funding. The researchers declared no conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
July 23, 2014
Last Updated:
July 25, 2014