Women Largely Unaware of Heart Disease Guidelines

Only 8% of women knew they should start receiving heart screenings in their 20s.

Findings from a new survey indicate that a majority of women do not know when they should start receiving heart screenings, which underscores the need for more education on the subject.

Approximately 60% of respondents believed that screening for heart disease should start after age 30, but the American Heart Association recommends women start at age 20, according to the survey conducted by Orlando Health.

"This is a wakeup call that there needs to be more education on heart health and more aggressive screenings to prevent a small issue from developing into life-threatening conditions," said Carolina Demori, MD, a cardiologist who leads the Women's Cardiac Center at the Orlando Health Heart Institute. "Women can begin developing atherosclerosis, plaque in their arteries, in their teens and early twenties. Therefore, it is vital to understand risk factors and make appropriate life changes as early as possible.”

At age 20, women should be screened for weight, body mass index, blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose levels, and waist circumference. These are all modifiable factors that can impact cardiovascular health. Women may also consult with their physician about an electrocardiogram, or other diagnostic tests, to determine if they have already developed heart disease, according to the study.

"Often women are too busy taking care of others that they don't take control of their own health," Dr Demori said. "It's extremely important to work on your health so you can be present for the ones you love."

More than 1000 women were included in the survey. The average age women thought they should start heart screenings was 41, which is more than 2 decades after the American Heart Association recommends.

Only 8% of respondents knew screenings should start in their 20s, but even fewer knew that they should start at 20-years-old, according to the study.

Complying with the American Heart Association recommendations is beneficial, but additional efforts to expand education among children and younger women is needed, which is highlighted by the survey results.

"Young people need to know what heart disease is and how they can prevent it, so they grow up with this knowledge and understand the preventative steps they need to take," Dr Demori said. "Women cannot wait until they're 40 to start paying attention to their risk factors."

It is especially important that women are aware of the symptoms of heart disease, since they present differently compared with men. During a heart attack, men experience left side chest and arm pain, while women may experience those symptoms, plus fatigue, weakness, shortness of breath, or indigestion.

Having a broad understanding of heart disease and risk factors will lead to more women seeking medical attention when experiencing symptoms, according to the study. The researchers also said that women should practice healthy lifestyle behaviors, such as diet and exercise.

"You don't have to participate in vigorous exercise. You can start by just walking, but it's extremely important to get into a routine of being active at least 30 minutes a day, at least 5 times a week," Dr Demori conlcuded. "The more you do, the more benefit for your heart."