Communication gap between women, doctors over heart attack risk

NEW YORK -- Heart disease kills more American women than all types of cancer combined, yet many don't discuss the dangers with their doctor.

A new study found that 74 percent of women reported having at least one risk factor for heart disease, but only 16 percent were told by their doctor that they were at risk.

When KC Maurer was hit by a sudden pain in her chest and shortness of breath, she waited hours before deciding to go to the hospital.

"It felt like somebody had taken their knuckle and rapped me in the center of my chest," Maurer said. 

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KC Maurer suffered a heart attack when she was 40 years old.

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Since she was 40 years old, she said she "absolutely" did not think it was a heart attack.

"I didn't have the classic TV or movie heart attack symptoms ever," Maurer said. 

Turns out, it was a heart attack.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. And yet, Maurer's first cardiologist couldn't figure out how to make things better.

"He said, 'I don't know what to do with you. Most of my patients are geriatric and male, you're young and female and I don't know how to help you,'" Maurer said. 

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Heart disease kills more American women than all types of cancer combined, yet many don't discuss the dangers with their doctor.

CBS News

A new report by the Women's Heart Alliance pinpoints a communication gap between women and their doctors. While most women got a routine physical, just 40 percent received a heart risk assessment from their physician. And almost half said they canceled or postponed a doctor's visit until they lost a few pounds.

"That's a very dangerous thing," said Dr. Holly Anderson, who directs education and outreach at New York Presbyterian's Ronald O. Perelman Heart Institute. "Women all too often wait if they think there's a problem with their heart, and all too often they could die waiting, because sometimes the first symptom of heart disease is sudden death and that's why prevention is so important."

Maurer now takes prevention to heart, focusing on sleep, healthy eating, and exercise. 

She's lost more than 50 pounds since her first heart attack. And has gone on to run three marathons.

This new report also identified a knowledge gap when it comes to heart disease in women. A majority of the women surveyed said they never discussed the topic with their doctors because they figured the doctor would bring it up if it was important.

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SInce suffering a heart attack, KC Maurer has run in three marathons.

CBS News
  • Mireya Villarreal

    Mireya Villarreal is a CBS News correspondent.