Many Americans Misperceive Heart Disease Prevalence, Prevention

A Cleveland Clinic survey finds that although heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, 68% of Americans don’t know it’s the foremost killer of women.

According to the survey, many Americans incorrectly thought breast cancer was the leading cause of death in women, with men especially likely to think this (44% vs 33%). Among millennials, 80% couldn’t identify heart disease as the leading cause of death in women. Heart disease accounts for 1 in every 4 deaths in the United States.

The survey also found that many Americans didn’t recognize key symptoms of heart attacks in women. Many don’t know that chest pain (24%), shortness of breath or sweating (28%), pain in the neck or back of jaw (43%), new or dramatic fatigue (55%), and nausea/ vomiting (60%) are signs of a heart attack in females.

Americans also don’t recognize that most heart disease is preventable—for both men and women. Even though 90% of heart disease is due to modifiable/controllable risk factors, only 8% of Americans know that.

The survey found there’s also a lot of confusion on what steps to take to prevent heart disease—and when. The survey found the following:

• Eighty percent don’t know the proper time to start getting their cholesterol tested is in their 20s.
• Twenty-nine percent mistakenly believing that a low-fat diet is most healthful for your heart.
• Only 19% know that the Mediterranean diet is the most heart-healthy diet.
• More than one-half (58%) misguidedly believe that taking an aspirin a day is a good way to prevent heart disease.

“Treatment of heart disease has come a long way in the past few decades, but we still need to work on prevention. There are so many simple changes that patients and the public can make that can provide significant improvements to their cardiovascular health,” said Samir Kapadia, MD, chairman of cardiovascular medicine at Cleveland Clinic. “Whether it be regarding diet, exercise, or other lifestyle factors, we need to continue to educate people about how to take control of their heart health.” 

Additional survey findings include the following:

Vaping and the heart: One in five (18%) Americans believe vaping e-cigarettes is not harmful to their heart health, and this belief is even higher among millennials (26%).
Not enough exercise: The survey found that more than one-half (58%) of Americans get less than the recommended 150 minutes of exercise per week, and 14% of Americans say they never exercise.
Worried about their hearts: Americans are concerned about their hearts. 63% of people across all age groups believe it’s likely they’ll develop heart disease in the next 10 years.

The survey was conducted as part of Cleveland Clinic Heart, Vascular and Thoracic Institute’s “Love your Heart” consumer education campaign in celebration of American Heart Month. Cleveland Clinic has been ranked the No. 1 hospital in the country for cardiology and cardiac surgery for 25 years in a row by U.S. News & World Report.

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Cleveland Clinic’s survey of the general population gathered insights into Americans’ perceptions of heart health and prevention. This was an online survey conducted among a national probability sample consisting of 1,000 adults 18 years of age and older, living in the continental United States. The total sample data is nationally representative based on age, gender, ethnicity, and educational attainment census data. The online survey was conducted by Dynata and completed between September 23 and September 26, 2018. The margin of error for the total sample at the 95% confidence level is ±3.1 percentage points.

— Source: Cleveland Clinic