Women Unaware of Heart Disease Risk

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A recent study in Canada found that 75% of women did not understand that high cholesterol (and high blood pressure) are major symptoms of heart disease.  And about half didn’t know that smoking increases risk of heart disease.

How is this possible?


And if it’s true in Canada, I’ll bet it is true in the U.S. as well.

The study, by the University of Ottawa Heart Institute and published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology (CJC), reports results from “the first ever Canadian national survey of women that focuses on knowledge, perceptions, and lifestyle related to heart health.”  Surveyed were 1,654 women aged 25 and over across Canada in the spring of 2013.  

According to the University of Ottawa Heart Institute, the study, Perceived vs Actual Knowledge and Risk of Heart Disease in Women: Findings From a Canadian Survey on Heart Health Awareness, Attitudes, and Lifestyle, found “that a majority of Canadian women lack knowledge of heart disease symptoms and risk factors, and that a significant proportion is even unaware of their own risk status.”  

Specifically, the study shows women are woefully under-informed/mis-informed about cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk:

  • Smoking: only about 1/2 of women understood smoking to be a major a risk factor of heart disease.

  • High cholesterol and high blood pressure (hypertension): less than one-quarter of women surveyed understood these as symptoms of heart disease risk.

  • Doctors do NOT discuss heart disease risk with women, and need to: As reported on Medical News Today, most women in the survey said they preferred receiving information from their doctor, but just half reported that their doctor had discussed heart disease prevention and lifestyle with them.

  • Women feel they are less at risk than they truly are:  Medical News Today reported, “The survey also shows that women who are at the highest risk perceived themselves to be at a much lower risk. In a comparison of actual and perceived heart disease knowledge, 80% of women with a low knowledge score perceived that they were moderately or well informed.”
  • Women incorrectly – and dangerously – believe a cardiac event is a one-time event when it’s really CVD (cardiovascular disease) and needs ongoing treatment. Medical News Today goes on to say, “Additionally, 35% of women with CVD viewed their event as only an episode that has now been treated, after which they resumed their pre-diagnosis lifestyle “Out of Sight, Out of Mind” phenomenon.”

Admirably, “the University of Ottawa Heart Institute will be launching the Canadian Women’s Heart Health Centre this fall (of 2014) to address the disparities in diagnosis, treatment and ongoing care for women with heart disease.”

I wish we’d do the same in the U.S.

Just so we are all quite clear, the U.S. National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute explains key heart disease risk factors on their What Are Coronary Heart Disease Risk Factors? webpage.  There are two types of risk factors: risks you cannot control and risks that are controllable with lifestyle, diet and, if necessary, medication.

Heart disease risk factors you can’t control (but should be discussed with your doctor) include age, gender, and family history of heart disease.

Risk factors that are controllable with lifestyle, diet and, if necessary, medication include:

  • High blood cholesterol and triglyceride levels
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes and prediabetes
  • Overweight and obesity
  • Smoking
  • Lack of physical activity
  • Unhealthy diet
  • Stress

Please know the heart disease risk factors in general.  And more specifically, you can actually see your predicted heart disease risk!  As many know (and I’ve reported about), in late 2013 the US guidelines for treating cholesterol were changed – and they now include an assessment of heart disease risk.  There is a FREE online calculator which assesses your heart disease risk. Read more about it on my blog posts:

Knowledge is power.  Use it to lower your heart disease risk.


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