Circulation: 12-year study shows that gender misconceptions of CVD still exist

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While awareness of cardiovascular disease (CVD) has grown among women since 1997, ethnic and racial disparities still exist and most women have preconceived notions and misconceptions about CVD and its preventative measures, based on a study published in the March 29 issue of Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes.

“American women continue to die of heart disease and stroke at a rate unparalleled by other diseases,” the authors wrote. Despite progress and public awareness that has taken place over the last 10 years, “there remains a persistent racial and ethnic minority gap in awareness.”

Lori Mosca, MD, PhD, from Columbia University Medical Center in New York City, and colleagues conducted a survey of 2,300 women to assess the perceptions, knowledge and awareness related to heart disease and stroke.

In 1997, the American Heart Association (AHA) began administering randomized surveys to assess the awareness of CVD in women. This study compared 2009 data to studies randomized in 1997, 2000, 2003 and 2006 to track trends of CVD related perceptions.

The surveys were administered between July 1, 2009 and Aug. 21, 2009 (1,142 via phone; 1,148 online) and included 21 questions; 11 pertaining to health behaviors and changes.

Study participants were over 25 years of age or older and were more likely to be married/cohabitating and have a household income of greater than $100,000 than those who participated in 1997.

During the study, results showed that 54 percent of the women surveyed identified heart disease/heart attack as the leading cause of death, compared to 30 percent in 1997.

While the authors said that awareness of heart disease doubled among whites and Hispanic women and tripled among black women between 1997 and 2009, still, African American, Hispanic and Asian women, compared to white women, are less aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death.

“African American women have a significantly higher rate of CVD compared with Caucasian women, yet their rate of awareness was substantially lower. This may impede risk reduction efforts because awareness of CVD has been linked to preventative action,” the authors wrote.

In 1997, 37 percent of the study cohort identified themselves as being “very well” or “well informed” about heart disease compared to 45 percent of women in 2009. If exhibiting signs of a heart attack, 53 percent of women said that they would call 9-1-1, while 23 percent said they would take an aspirin.

The study showed that women who had read or heard about CVD in the past 12 months were more likely to identify CVD as the leading cause of death than those who had not, 58 percent versus 25 percent, respectively. In addition, 68 percent of women aware of the “red dress” campaign correctly identified CVD as the leading cause of death compared to 43 percent who were not aware of the campaign.

Additionally, the study found that women in 2009 were more likely to have spoken with their doctor about heart disease than those in 1997, 48 percent versus 30 percent, respectively.

During the survey, 29 percent of women telephoned and 24 percent of those who completed surveys online identified themselves as a caregiver of an adult family member or friend. Of this cohort, respondents were more likely to report negative health impacts due to stress, extreme exhaustion, having less time to themselves, having trouble sleeping and not enough time to spend with family and friends, 22 percent and 31 percent, respectively.

In 2009, checking blood pressure, better managing stress and seeing a doctor were listed as the top three preventative measures that women took to increase health. According to the results, Hispanic women were more likely than white, African American or Asian women to take these steps for prevention, 38 percent, 20 percent and 19 percent and 19 percent, respectively.

Fifty-one percent said that care giving got in the way of taking preventative steps to improve one’s health, while 42 percent said that media confusion caused them not to take preventative care measures.

“Many misconceptions remain about how to lower CVD risk,” the authors wrote. “Survey responses suggest that sustained educational efforts are needed to raise awareness, particularly among vulnerable populations.”

They concluded that more emphasis should be placed on creating campaigns to increase the awareness of symptoms of heart disease, the importance of dialing 9-1-1 and early prevention tactics.