Many American women have heart disease risk factors, but few are properly informed of their risk by doctors, a new study finds.
Researchers conducted an online survey of 1,000 women nationwide and found that 74 percent had at least one heart disease risk factor, including high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, irregular menstrual cycle, early menopause or a family history of heart disease.
Women who were younger, lower-income or minority were the least likely to be aware of their heart disease risk factors. These same groups of women were also least likely to know that heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women, the researchers said.
Only 16 percent of those women were told by a doctor that they were at risk for heart disease. About one-third were advised to lose weight, the study revealed.
Nearly half of the women in the study said they had canceled or postponed a health appointment until they could lose weight, which suggests that a focus on women’s weight could interfere with proper health care, the researchers said.
They explained that anyone with a heart disease risk factor should receive regular blood pressure and cholesterol checks, along with counseling on smoking and heart-healthy living.
The study is to be presented April 4 at an American College of Cardiology meeting in Chicago. Findings presented at meetings are generally viewed as preliminary until they’ve been published in a peer-reviewed journal.
“Women’s heart awareness has stalled, despite almost three decades of campaigning by numerous women’s heart health advocacy groups,” study author Dr. C. Noel Bairey Merz, medical director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute in Los Angeles, said in an American College of Cardiology news release.
Three-quarters of the women in the study said they rarely or never discuss heart health with family or friends, which is likely due to social stigma about body weight, the researchers said. Stereotypes about body weight and heart disease need to be countered with more evidence-based communication and preventive care, they added.
“Women feel stigmatized. They are most often told to lose weight rather than have their blood pressure and blood cholesterol checked,” Bairey Merz said.
“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 added. “Who wants to be told to lose weight?”
The U.S. Office on Women’s Health has more on heart disease.