Most Women Not Aware They Could Be at Risk for Heart Disease

A recent survey showed that many women in the United States do not feel personally connected to the risk of heart disease.

ORLANDO, Fla.— Heart health campaigns should personalize cardiovascular disease (CVD) awareness to help American women feel a personal connection to the disease, according to the results of a nationwide survey conducted by the Women’s Heart Alliance (WHA).

Heart disease mortality rates have dropped significantly over the past 25 years for men, but the rates have fallen at a much slower rate for women. CVD is the most common cause of death for women in the United States, but very few women feel they are at risk. The WHA conducted their survey to determine any obstacles and potential opportunities to help personalize women’s heart health awareness.

Holly S. Andersen, MD, an attending cardiologist and associate professor of clinical medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill Cornell Medical Center, and co-author of the study presented the findings of the survey at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions.

“Women don’t talk about heart disease, much the same way they didn’t talk about breast cancer back in the 1970s and 1980s,” noted Dr Andersen, who is also the director of education and outreach for The Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute, at a press conference. “But it’s these personal connections that make heart disease a priority among women. A woman who knows another woman with heart disease is 25% more likely to be concerned with her own heart disease risk, and 19% more likely to bring up the conversation with her doctors.”

The WHA survey included 1011 women aged 25 to 60 years found through KnowledgePanel, a representative panel of the American public. Each participant took a 15-minute survey, and the data were weighted by age, race, education, and income, according to the March 2014 Current Population Survey.

The results showed that 45% of women are not aware that heart disease is the most common killer of women in the United States.

Only 27% of women from the survey said that they could name a woman in their lives with heart disease. The researchers also observed a difference in age, with women aged 25 to 49 years being less likely than those aged 50 to 60 years to know a woman with heart disease (23% vs 37%). Additionally, only 11% could name a woman who has died from heart disease.

Seven out of 10 women almost never discuss heart health with their physician. The survey found that women who have had their heart checked in the past year are twice as likely to discuss heart health with friends and family.

Most women did not feel they were at risk if they were younger or in good health, or assumed that their physicians would say something if there was a problem, according to the data.

“We are stalled on women’s awareness of heart disease, partly because women say they put off going to the doctor until they’ve lost a few pounds. This is clearly a gendered issue,” said Dr C. Noel Bairey Merz, lead author, and director of the Barbara Streisand Women’s Heart Center at Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, in a press release.

Dr Bairey Merz strongly recommends that women need an atherosclerotic CVD score, also called an A-risk score. The A-risk score is calculated from risk factors including age, sex, race, blood pressure, cholesterol levels, blood pressure medication use, diabetes status, and smoking status.

“Talk to your doctor about heart disease,” Dr Bairey Merz said. “Every woman 40 and older needs to get their A-risk score. If you’re under 40 you still need to know your blood pressure and cholesterol.”


  1. Andersen H. LBCT.01 – Failure Is Not an Option: New Drugs and Systems of Care. The No. 1 Killer Is Invisible to Most Women. Presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; November 7-11, 2015; Orlando, FL.
  2. Johnson P, Bairey Merz NC, Andersen H, et al. Abstract 14230. Women Speak Up About Personalized Heart Health Awareness: A Women’s Heart Alliance Research Report. Presented at the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions; November 7-11, 2015; Orlando, FL.