Awareness represents a major modulator for the uptake of preventive measures and healthy life-style choices. Women underestimate the role of cardiovascular diseases as causes of mortality, yet little information is available about their subjective risk awareness. Methods: The Berlin Female Risk Evaluation (BEFRI) study included a randomized urban female sample aged 25-74 years, in which 1,066 women completed standardized questionnaires and attended an extensive clinical examination. Subjective estimation was measured by a 3-point Likert scale question asking about subjective perception of absolute cardiovascular risk with a 1 year outlook to be matched to the cardiovascular risk estimate according to the Framingham score for women. Results: An expected linear increase with age was observed for hypertension, hyperlipidemia, obesity, and vascular compliance measured by pulse pressure. Knowledge about optimal values of selected cardiovascular risk factor indicators increased with age, but not the perception of the importance of age itself. Only 41.35% of all the participants correctly classified their own cardiovascular risk, while 48.65% underestimated it, and age resulted as the most significant predictor for this subjective underestimation (OR=3.5 for age >50 years compared to <50, 95% CI=2.6-4.8, P <0.0001). Therefore, although socioeconomic factors such as joblessness (OR=1.9, 95% CI=1.4-2.6, P <0.0001) and combinations of other social risk factors (low income, limited education, simple job, living alone, having children, statutory health coverage only; OR=1.5, 95% CI=1.1-2.1, P=0.009) also significantly influenced self-awareness, age appeared as the strongest predictor of risk underestimation and at the same time the least perceived cardiovascular risk factor. Conclusions: Less than half of the women in our study population correctly estimated their cardiovascular risk. The study identifies age as the strongest predictor of risk underestimation in urban women and at the same time as the least subjectively perceived cardiovascular risk factor. Although age itself cannot be modified, our data highlights the need for more explicit risk counseling and information campaigns about the cardiovascular relevance of aging while focusing on measures to control coexisting modifiable risk factors.
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