Context: One of 2 women in the United States dies of heart disease or stroke, yet women are underdiagnosed and undertreated for these diseases and their risk factors. Informed decisions to prevent heart disease and stroke depend on awareness of risk factors and knowledge of behaviors to prevent or detect these diseases.
Objective: Assess (1) knowledge of risks of heart disease and stroke and (2) perceptions of heart disease and its prevention among women in the United States.
Design and setting: Telephone survey conducted in 1997 of US households, including an oversample of African American and Hispanic women.
Participants: One thousand respondents 25 years or older; 65.8% white, 13.0% African American, and 12.6% Hispanic.
Main outcome measures: Knowledge of heart disease and stroke risks, perceptions of heart disease, and knowledge of symptoms and preventive measures.
Results: Only 8% of the respondents identified heart disease and stroke as their greatest health concerns; less than 33% identified heart disease as the leading cause of death. More women aged 25 to 44 years identified breast cancer as the leading cause of death than women 65 years or older. Women aged 25 to 44 years indicated they were not well informed about heart disease and stroke. Although 90% of the women reported that they would like to discuss heart disease or risk reduction with their physicians, more than 70% reported that they had not.
Conclusions: Most women do not perceive that heart disease is a substantial health concern and report that they are not well informed about their risk. Age influenced knowledge to a greater extent than ethnicity. Programs directed at young women that address the effects of lifestyle behaviors on long-term health are needed. Better communication between physicians and patients is also warranted.