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More Education Needed on Women, Heart Disease

Bairey Merz 200px

C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD

Women and their physicians are largely uneducated when it comes to females and heart disease, putting women's health and lives at greater risk, a new study shows.

The study, published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, shows that 45 percent of U.S. women are unaware heart disease is the No. 1 killer of women. Even though the majority reported having a routine physical or wellness exam in the past year, only 40 percent reported having a heart health assessment by their healthcare provider.

As for physicians, only 39 percent of primary care physicians surveyed for the study indicated that heart disease is a top health concern for their female patients, and only 35 percent bring up the topic during exams with new patients.

"We clearly have a lot of work to do to make women aware that heart disease is a bigger threat to their health than all types of cancer combined," said C. Noel Bairey Merz, MD, director of the Cedars-Sinai Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center.

Patients aren't the only ones in need of heart health education, said Bairey Merz, who led the study funded by the Women's Heart Alliance, a nonprofit organization exclusively dedicated to women's heart health. Bairey Merz serves as a scientific adviser to the group.

"We also need to work with primary care physicians to make sure they understand how to assess and treat women with heart disease, which often presents with different symptoms than does heart disease in men," added Bairey Merz.

Some of the data from the study was presented earlier this year at the American College of Cardiology Scientific Sessions. The data came from a survey of 1,011 U.S. women ages 25-60 and a separate survey of 200 physicians. The margin of error is plus or minus 3.4 percentage points.

Results show:

  • Only 22 percent of primary care physicians and 42 percent of cardiologists felt well prepared to assess heart disease in women.
  • A majority of women reported having a routine physical or wellness exam, yet only 40 percent reported having a heart health assessment.
  • Sixty-three percent of women admitted they sometimes put off going to the physician, and 45 percent said they canceled or postponed a doctor appointment because they wanted to lose weight.
  • While 74 percent reported having one or more heart disease risk factors, only 16 percent were informed by their physician that they were at risk.
  • Twenty-six percent of women said having heart disease would be an embarrassment because others would assume the woman was not eating healthy or exercising.