Women need to learn more about their own heart health, say researchers from the latest study.
Although heart disease and stroke death rates among men have dropped steadily over the last 25 years, women's rates have fallen at a much slower rate.
Moreover, 64% of women who die suddenly of coronary heart disease have no previous symptoms.
Those who know another woman with heart disease are 25% more likely to be concerned about it for themselves and 19% more likely to bring up heart health with their doctors.
However, most women say they do not have a personal connection to cardiovascular disease.
Survey highlights need for awareness
A team from the Women's Heart Alliance, led by Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center and professor of medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, CA, carried out a survey of 1,011 adult women.
They questioned a random sampling of women ages 25-60 across the US in an online survey that took about 15 minutes. Women were provided computers and Internet access if necessary. Researchers factored out the effects of age, region, race, ethnicity, education and income.
The survey showed that only 27% of women can name a woman in their lives with heart disease and only 11% can name a woman who has died from it. Among those aged 25-49, about 23% know a woman with heart disease, compared with 37% of women aged 50-60.
In addition, it was found that health care providers more often focused on a woman's weight rather than other cardiovascular disease risk factors, whereas men were more likely to be told that their cholesterol or blood pressure is too high by their doctors.
The results highlight the disconnect most women experience between the widespread nature of women's heart disease and their personal perceptions.
Dr. Bairey Merz says:
"Awareness of heart disease is crucial. We are stalled on women's awareness of heart disease, partly because women say they put off going to the doctor until they have lost a few pounds. This is clearly a gendered issue."
Dr. Bairey Merz advises women to be screened for cardiovascular risk, including finding out their atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD) score, also called the A-risk score.
She says that every woman of 40 and over needs to find out their A-risk score, and those under 40 should know their blood pressure and cholesterol levels. She also urges women to talk to their doctor about heart disease risk.
Based on age, sex, race, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood pressure medication use, diabetes status and smoking status, users can get a 10-year score for cardiovascular disease risk, and also a lifetime risk score.
A risk calculator developed jointly by the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology in 2013 helps identify women at risk of heart disease.
Medical News Today recently reported that young women with diabetes have a higher risk of cardiovascular disease.