By AMERICAN HEART ASSOCIATION NEWS

Despite being the No. 1 killer of women in the United States, cardiovascular disease is not the top concern for women – or physicians, according to a survey published Thursday.

The reasons? Social stigma about body weight that keeps women from talking about it with their doctors – who say they have limited training in assessing women’s overall risk for heart disease.

“The medical community must take action with added urgency,” said American Heart Association Chief Executive Officer Nancy Brown in a statement. Brown is one of 15 authors on the report, which appeared in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

The authors of the survey, which was conducted in 2014 by the Women’s Heart Alliance, found that heart disease deaths could be reduced with more investment in research and education about heart disease in women, coupled with increased use of standard risk-assessment tools. About 400,000 women died from cardiovascular disease in 2016.

The alliance, which was created in 2014 to focus on the differences and gaps in prevention, research and treatment of women’s heart disease, surveyed 1,011 women, age 25 to 60. The survey also included 100 cardiologists and 200 primary care physicians.

“The implications of our results support that campaigns should work to make CVD ‘real’ to American women and destigmatize the disease risk by promoting the use of CVD risk assessment to counter stereotypes with facts and validated assessments,” a report on the survey concluded.

The AHA is a partner of the Women’s Health Alliance, which was founded by entertainer Barbra Streisand and businessman Ronald O. Perelman.

Both organizations have emphasized the importance of women’s heart health.

In 2004, the AHA launched its Go Red For Women campaign to dispel myths and raise awareness of heart disease and stroke as the No. 1 killer of women.

The AHA also helped work on the first guidelines about women and cardiovascular disease for medical professionals. In 2004, the AHA and other organizations expanded their focus on female-specific clinical recommendations and sponsored the Evidence-Based Guidelines for the Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Women. The latest update to those guidelines was in 2011.

But more work needs to be done, and change isn’t happening quickly enough, Brown said.

“Healthcare providers are missing the opportunity to help their female patients if they don’t utilize these science-based guidelines. We need added urgency to prevent heart disease and stroke in these women,” Brown said. “Women, especially those who are younger or ethnic minorities, are often assigned a lower cardiovascular risk assessment than is appropriate if you consider their lifelong risk. If doctors don’t recognize this, these women will be less likely to receive preventative care. This is unacceptable.”

Women also can take charge of their own health, knowing that 80 percent of cardiovascular diseases may be prevented with education and action, Brown said.

“The most important personal action: know your numbers,” she said. “Knowing the most critical numbers for your heart health, including blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and body mass index, and taking action to correct them could save your life.”