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Study: More women aware of perils of heart disease


The number of women aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death has nearly doubled in the last 15 years, but that knowledge still lags in minorities and younger women, according to a study.

Researchers comparing women’s views about heart disease in 1997 and today found that in 2012, 56% of women identified heart disease as the leading cause of death, up from 30% in 1997. Back then, women were more likely to cite cancer than heart disease (35% vs. 30%) as the leading killer; in 2012, only 24% cited cancer.

(In 2009, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease was the cause in 24% of women’s deaths, followed by cancer in 22.2% of cases.)

In 2012, 36% of black women and 34% of Hispanic women identified heart disease as the top killer. Those awareness levels were the same as white women had in ’97 (33%). Women ages 25 to 34 had the lowest awareness rate of any age group, 44%.

The study, scheduled for publication in Circulation, an American Heart Association journal, showed barriers and motivators to engage in a heart healthy lifestyle are different for younger women, who also said their physicians were less likely to talk to them about heart disease.

“This is a missed opportunity,” said Lori Mosca, MD, PhD, MPH, the study’s lead author and chair of an American Heart Association committee that produced the report, said in a news release. “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.”

In August-October 2012, researchers conducted online and telephone surveys with more than 1,200 women ages 25 and older. They compared results from surveys taken in 1997, 2000, 2003, 2006 and 2009. The survey assessed women’s lifestyles, awareness of the leading cause of death and warning signs of myocardial infarction and what they would do if they experienced MI symptoms.

Among the women surveyed, 61% said they would take preventive action to feel better, while 45% would be motivated to take preventive action to live longer.

Racial and ethnic minorities, compared with whites, reported higher levels of trust in their healthcare providers and also were more likely to act on the information provided, dispelling the myth that mistrust of providers contributes to disparities.

Depression, previously reported as a barrier to adherence to medical guidelines, was self-reported in 26% of respondents.

Compared with older women, younger women were less likely to report discussing heart disease risk with their doctors (6% among 25- to 34-year-olds vs. 33% for those 65 and older).

Mosca said efforts need to be age-appropriate and culturally sensitive to reach younger women and more minorities who are at high risk for heart disease.

“There are gaps between women’s personal awareness and what they’re doing in terms of preventive steps,” said Mosca, director of preventive cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital and professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. “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.”

The study is available at


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