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Heart Disease Health Center

When It Comes to Disease, Women's Fears Are Misdirected

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Mosca and colleagues say women may perceive heart disease and stroke as less life-threatening or less debilitating than breast cancer, which may explain why they know so little about their risks and the warning signs.

"It's important that women at least recognize that as they go through menopause, their risk factors for heart disease worsen," Mosca tells WebMD.

But one positive aspect of the survey is that 73% of the participants expressed interest in talking to their doctor about things they can do to reduce their risk of heart disease. Unfortunately, the majority who were willing to have such a conversation said their doctor never made an attempt to discuss heart disease with them.

Knowledge of heart disease risk factors and symptoms is important because statistics show that one in two women will die of heart disease, compared with about one in 26 women who will die of breast cancer, says Sharon A. Jackson, PhD, of Wake Forest University School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C., in an editorial accompanying the survey.

Jackson says many women perceive heart disease as not being as deadly as breast cancer. "There are fears about the therapy and side effects, and so women focus in on breast cancer without the realization that heart disease actually affects more women and [that they] are probably at greater risk for having [heart disease] than breast cancer," she tells WebMD.

The survey, according to Jackson, shows that information about how to prevent heart disease and recognize potential problems needs to reach a wider audience. One way of doing this may be through popular magazines. The survey found that magazines were a common source of health information.

"Breast cancer has become more part of the popular media than heart disease has," Jackson says. "You can pick up any [women's magazine] and read something about breast cancer."

Similar messages about heart disease and stroke risk need to be where women can see them, but also must reach out to women of all ages, races, and socioeconomic status, she tells WebMD.

The American Heart Association, which sponsored the survey, is in the midst of a national campaign to educate women about heart disease and stroke.

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