It could be said that a study is getting to the heart of the matter during February’s Heart Month.
The national survey conducted by MDVIP, a national health care network with more than 950 primary care physicians, and Ipsos found that while seven out of 10 Americans acknowledge heart disease as the number one killer of both men and women, people still worry more about cancer (62 percent) than they do a heart attack (55 percent).
Nearly two-thirds of Americans (62 percent) failed the "Heart Attack IQ" quiz, proving a lack of knowledge about heart disease, the risk factors and prevention. Less than 1 percent of Americans got an A on the quiz, with 3 percent getting a B, 12 percent getting C and 23 percent scoring D.
"The health care community has made important strides in raising public awareness about heart disease, yet our research shows a significant gap in how much people understand about the disease and their own risk for a heart attack," said Dr. Andrea Klemes, chief medical officer of MDVIP. "Considering that at least 80 percent of cardiac events are preventable, primary care physicians are a first line of defense in helping prevent, and potentially reverse, the disease through more comprehensive risk assessment, better education and health coaching that together lead to long-term lifestyle changes in patients."
The survey reveals many Americans are uncertain, if not ill-informed, about the risk factors for a heart attack and what increases a person's odds for having one.
Confusion over cholesterol: Most Americans (75 percent) don't know that a heart attack happens when a blood clot forms over a plaque lesion in the arteries. Three-quarters of Americans (75 percent) are not aware that most heart attacks occur in people with normal cholesterol levels. Only 14 percent of American adults have had their inflammatory markers checked within the last year, while more than half (54 percent) have had their cholesterol levels checked during the same period.
Fat and heart disease: More than half of Americans (52 percent) falsely believe people with heart disease should eat as little fat as possible, not taking into account the value of unsaturated fats in foods like salmon and nuts that can actually help reduce the risk of a heart attack. Americans also struggle with differentiating between bad fats. When presented a list of four foods (medium French fries, 3-ounce filet mignon, one scrambled egg, one cup of ice cream), only 9 percent correctly identified the cup of ice cream, which is the highest in saturated fat, as the worst for cholesterol.
Heart attack prevention: Primary care physicians play a key role in heart disease education and prevention, yet less than half of Americans (42 percent) say they've actually discussed their heart health with their PCP. Similarly, only 42 percent have been coached by their PCP on specific lifestyle habits, including diet, exercise and meditation to help prevent or manage heart disease.
Gender matters: Only 26 percent of women are aware that females have a lower chance of surviving a first heart attack compared to males. The survey also shows women lag behind men when it comes to heart disease knowledge and prevention. Only 31 percent of women (vs. 53 percent of men) have asked their primary care doctor for advice on how to manage or prevent heart disease.
The bottom line, according to Klemes: "Whether you're male, female, in your 30s or 90s, heart disease doesn't discriminate. This is why people need to partner with a physician who will go beyond the basics to provide a more complete picture of their risk and put together an action plan that proactively addresses it. Our outcome data on MDVIP members is black-and-white proof that when doctors actually have time to work closely with patients and employ more advanced testing, they can identify risk earlier, take more preventive action and keep them out of the hospital."