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Heart disease is the leading cause of death. Why don’t more U.S. adults know that?

Heart disease
Heart disease

A recent survey conducted by the American Heart Association (AHA) revealed a surprising lack of awareness among over half of adult Americans regarding heart disease, which stands as the leading cause of death in the United States. According to the 2023 Harris Poll, commissioned by the AHA, 51% of U.S. adults were unable to correctly identify heart disease as the primary cause of death. Notably, 18% mistakenly named cancer, while 16% admitted not knowing. This apparent lack of awareness underscores the need for improved education and public outreach efforts to dispel common myths surrounding heart disease.

Dr. Wayne Rosamond, a professor at the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, attributes the limited awareness to the overwhelming volume of health-related information from various sources, suggesting that critical messages about heart disease risk and prevention may get lost. The AHA emphasizes that heart disease is not exclusive to older adults, dispelling the misconception that only seniors are at risk. Plaque buildup in arteries can start as early as childhood and adolescence, putting young and middle-aged adults at risk.

Dr. Abha Khandelwal, an associate professor of cardiovascular medicine at Stanford University, advocates for early education, suggesting that awareness campaigns should commence as early as childhood, even in kindergarten. She highlights the silent nature of conditions like high blood pressure, often referred to as “the silent killer,” emphasizing the importance of raising awareness to prevent heart-related issues.

Dr. Sanjiv Shah, a professor of cardiology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, notes that death due to heart disease often happens swiftly, potentially contributing to the misconception. Dr. William Borden, interim chair of medicine at the George Washington University School of Medicine, underscores the need for additional education about the threat of heart disease while emphasizing the availability of effective tools for prevention.

Risk factors for heart disease encompass preexisting conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and unhealthy cholesterol levels, along with lifestyle factors like smoking, excessive drinking, lack of exercise, and an unhealthy diet. Age and family history also play pivotal roles. Individuals can take proactive steps to reduce their risk, including quitting smoking, prioritizing sleep, maintaining a healthy diet, and engaging in regular exercise. Recognizing signs such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue is crucial for early detection.

In conclusion, the survey results highlight the pressing need for ongoing education and awareness campaigns to address misconceptions about heart disease, promote understanding of its prevalence, and encourage preventive measures. The focus should extend beyond traditional healthcare settings, reaching individuals from childhood to adulthood.

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