Over the past fifteen years the number of women aware that heart disease is the number one killer has almost doubled. However, this awareness is still lacking among young women and minorities, according to a recent study published in the journal Circulation.

It is an umbrella term that includes a spectrum of different disorders that all affect the heart. Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the USA, UK, Australia, and Canada. In the U.S. it is responsible for a little over a quarter of all deaths.

In the study, the researchers compared female awareness about heart disease in 1997 to their awareness in 2012. They conducted online and telephone surveys that assessed the women’s lifestyle, awareness of leading causes of death, and understanding of heart disease.

The difference was quite marked; in 1997 only 30 percent of women knew that heart disease was the leading killer, compared to 56 percent in 2012.

Fifteen years ago, women were more likely to believe that cancer was the leading killer, rather than heart disease (35 percent versus 30 percent). In 2012, the percentage of women who cited cancer as the number one killer dropped to 24%, indicating that awareness among the general population has improved.

However, among minority groups, only 36 percent of African-American and 34 percent of Hispanic women knew that heart disease was the leading killer – percentages similar to those found in white women in 1997.

The lowest awareness rate among all age groups was in women 25-34 years of age – 44 percent correctly cited heart disease as the leading killer. Most young women said that their doctors were not likely to inform them about heart disease and the associated risks.

Lori Mosca, M.D, M.P.H., Ph.D., lead author of the study, said:

“Habits established in younger women can have lifelong rewards. 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.”

The authors also found also found that:

  • Ethnic minorities trusted their healthcare providers more than whites did.
  • Only 6 percent of women aged 25-34 discussed heart disease with their doctors versus 33 percent of those above the age of 65.
  • 45 percent of women would take preventive action to live longer as opposed to 61 percent who would to feel better.
  • Self-reported depression was fairly common among the respondents

Mosca concluded:

“There are gaps between women’s personal awareness and what they’re doing in terms of preventive steps. The American Heart Association has well-established, evidence-based guidelines about heart disease prevention, so we have to better align women’s actions with what is evidence-based.”

Written by Joseph Nordqvist