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May 25, 2016

Few Women Counseled About Their Risk for Heart Disease

Most women have one or more risk factors for heart disease yet few can recall being advised on heart health prevention.

Three out of four women have one or more risk factors for heart disease yet few are properly counseled about their cardiovascular risk, according to research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 65th Annual Scientific Sessions.

Conducted by the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute, this study surveyed more than 1,000 U.S. women about their health and experiences with health care providers. By randomly sampling a diverse population of women, the study was representative of 97% of American households.

Based on survey responses, researchers found that 74% of women had at least one risk factor for heart disease, such as high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes or a family history of heart disease. However, only 16% of women recall being told that they were at risk for heart disease—the No. 1 killer of men and women in the United States. Researchers also found that roughly one-third of women were simply told to lose weight, which resulted in many women postponing future appointments until they could lose the weight.

Survey responses are discouraging, as heart disease awareness is still lacking in U.S. women.

“Women’s heart awareness has stalled, despite almost three decades of campaigning by numerous women’s heart health advocacy groups,” said C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, FACC, medical director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute and the study’s lead author. “If women don’t think they’re going to get heart disease and they’re being told by society and their doctors that everything would be fine if they just lost weight, that explains the paradox of why women aren’t going in for the recommended heart checks,” Bairey Merz said.

Therefore, it’s important that we work to address stereotypes about body weight and focus on evidence-based preventive care. Maintaining a healthy weight is very important to heart health, but it’s only one piece of a healthy lifestyle that includes a healthy diet and physical activity.

“We need to work very hard to get physicians and the health system to adopt prevention guidelines in their everyday practice,” Bairey Merz said. “Preventing heart disease is not about weight. It’s about getting your blood pressure and cholesterol checked. For some people, it’s about getting your sugar checked, being told not to smoke, being heart-healthy and exercising. That’s how we prevent heart disease.”

Questions for You to Consider

  • Am I at risk for heart disease?
  • To estimate a patient’s risk for heart disease, doctors take into account a number of factors such as age, gender, blood pressure, cholesterol, and family history. Using this information, doctors can estimate whether a patient is considered to be at low, medium or high risk for heart disease. Online tools are also available to help patients estimate their risk for heart disease.
  • What are health disparities?
  • Health disparities refer to differences in health outcomes or burdens of disease between groups of people. Health disparities can exist between different populations of race, sex, income, or even geographic location. In health care, the goal is to eliminate these differences so all individuals have the same ability to achieve good health.

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