Public Release: 

International physician survey reveals misperceptions about the toll of stroke on women

Findings released on World Heart Day

Shire Hall Communications

"While most people think of cardiovascular disease as a man's problem, the truth is that both sexes suffer just about equally, but for a variety of reasons cardiovascular conditions, such as stroke, are more often fatal in women than in men," said Janet Voûte, chief executive officer of the World Heart Federation.

The GRASP (Global Reality of Attitudes on Stroke Prevention and Hypertension) survey found that six in ten physicians believe that men are more likely than women to die from stroke. In fact, a higher proportion of deaths in women, 11% (2.9 million annually), are a result of stroke as compared to the proportion of deaths from stroke in men, 8% (2.5 million annually).(1) Not only do more women than men die from stroke, but if women survive a stroke, they are more likely to be severely disabled than men.(2)

"Cardiovascular disease is the largest single cause of death among women, accounting for a third of all deaths," said Ms Voûte. "We want women, physicians and the public to be aware of the truths about heart disease and stroke and the impact on both women and men. The understanding about cardiovascular disease in women needs to be raised to the same level it is for cardiovascular disease in men. We also want World Heart Day to serve as a catalyst to encourage women around the world to be proactive in preventing heart disease and stroke. Women must have discussions with their physicians about their risk factors - such as hypertension - and, if necessary, seek the best available treatments and/or make the appropriate lifestyle changes." Hypertension and stroke are strongly linked.

Although there are a number of risk factors for stroke, including smoking, diabetes, excess weight and physical inactivity, hypertension is the No. 1 risk factor and is present in the vast majority of stroke sufferers. A common public perception is that the main risk associated with hypertension is heart attack, while in fact hypertension is a major contributing factor for strokes. Furthermore, a recent analysis published in the Journal of American Medical Association showed the prevalence of hypertension is much higher in a sample of six European countries (England, Finland, Germany, Italy, Spain and Sweden) than in Canada and the United States. This pattern strongly correlates with death rates from stroke in Europe.(3)

Physicians appreciate the fact that hypertension and stroke are strongly correlated. In the GRASP survey, 70% of physicians believe that all or most first strokes can be prevented by properly treating high blood pressure. The majority of physicians, 87%, also said they believe there is a need for improvement regarding the treatment of hypertension and its consequences."

"It is encouraging that physicians are concerned about preventing stroke in hypertensive patients," said Professor Massimo Volpe, a hypertension expert and professor of cardiology, Department of Medicine and Pathology, University of Rome. "Now we need to ensure that they also appreciate that women are just as much at risk of having a stroke as men. Therefore, women as well as men need to be evaluated and treated appropriately, using evidence-based medicine, to reduce their risk of having a stroke."

The GRASP survey

The GRASP survey was sponsored jointly by the World Heart Federation and Merck & Co., Inc. to ascertain physicians' perceptions on hypertension management.

The survey results compiled from 825 primary care physicians in eleven countries were first released at the August 2003 European Society of Cardiology Congress in Vienna, Austria.

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About the World Heart Federation

The World Heart Federation is a non-governmental organization based in Geneva and dedicated to the prevention and control of cardiovascular diseases around the world. The World Heart Federation is committed to helping the global population achieve a longer and better life through prevention and control of heart disease and stroke, with a particular focus on low and middle-income countries. It is comprised of 168 member societies of cardiology and heart foundations from over 100 countries and continental members covering the regions of Asia-Pacific, Europe, East Mediterranean, the Americas and Africa.

For more information about World Heart Day, visit: www.worldheartday.com.

About Merck

Merck & Co., Inc., which operates in many countries as Merck Sharp & Dohme (MSD), is a leading research-driven pharmaceutical products and services company. Merck discovers, develops, manufactures and markets a broad range of innovative products to improve human and animal health, directly and through its joint ventures.

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