- Depression. In general, women experience higher rates of depression than the general population (Hardesty, 2005). In women, a strong link between heart disease and stroke, depression and poor outcomes exists (Guck, 2003). Depression can influence lifestyle changes including physical activity, nutrition and treatment adherence.
- Lack of awareness. Heart disease and stroke are historically perceived as conditions afflicting men. Many women are unaware of the threat of heart disease on their health; therefore, they disregard many of the signs and symptoms associated with heart disease and stroke (Hart, 2005). A national survey showed that only 7% of women perceived heart disease and stroke to be their greatest health threat, and less than one third knew it was the leading cause of death for women (Mosca, 2007). Only one third of women reported that they were very well or well informed about stroke (Ferris, 2007).
- Health care provider counseling. It is hypothesized that the lack of patient and physician awareness likely contributes to heart disease and stroke disparities for women (Champney, 2005). Only about one third of women recall discussing heart disease and stroke with their physician (Mosca, 2005). Women also tend to receive less counseling regarding their risk for heart disease and stroke as compared to men (Mosca, 2004).
- Stress. Stress, including work, marital and family life stress and financial hardships may contribute to increased risk factors (e.g., physical activity, nutrition, tobacco use) for heart disease and stroke (Johnson, 2007).
Strategies to address considerations:
- Teach coping methods. To manage stress, encourage health-promoting strategies such as physical activity, adequate sleep, meditation or other relaxation techniques (Johnson, 2007).
- Support groups: Women especially may benefit from support groups, which are helpful to validate feelings and reduce isolation (Hardesty, 2005).
- Increase awareness. Educating women and their health care providers regarding risk of heart disease and stroke and appropriate preventive interventions is essential in improving mortality and morbidity among women (Champney, 2005).
- Improve screenings: All women should routinely be screened for depression, tobacco abuse, physical activity and diet (Champney, 2005; Hardesty, 2005). Early detection and more accurate diagnosis are key to improving heart disease and stroke outcomes in women.
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