is good for heart health, at least among men, a new
University of Rochester Medical Center researcher
Robert Gramling, M.D., D.Sc., found that men who believed
they were at lower-than-average risk for cardiovascular
disease actually experienced a three times lower incidence
of death from heart attacks and strokes.
The data did not support the same conclusion among
women. One possible explanation for the gender difference,
researchers said, is that the study began in 1990,
a time when heart disease was believed to be primarily
a threat to men. Therefore, women's judgments about
how often heart attacks occur among average women
might have been disproportionately low.
The study is published in the July-August issue of
Annals of Family Medicine.
The 15-year surveillance study involved 2,816 adults
in New England between the ages of 35 and 75 who had
no history of heart disease. Researchers collected
baseline data from 1990-1992; outcomes were obtained
from the National Death Index records through December
Researchers were interested in measuring whether
optimistic perceptions of risk might protect people
from the fear-related coping behaviors (overeating
comfort foods, too much alcohol, or avoiding the doctor)
or the stress that can be associated with heart disease.
They asked people at the outset, "Compared with persons
of your own age and sex, how would you rate your risk
of having a heart attack or stroke in the next 5 years?"
Men's views were more discordant. Almost half of
the men who self-rated their risk to be "low" would
have been classified by objective medical tests as
having "high" or "very high" risk. Most women who
rated their risk to be "low" were far more accurate
than the men.
"Clearly, holding optimistic perceptions of risk
has its advantages for men," said Gramling, an assistant
professor of Family Medicine and Community and Preventive
If doctors are to accurately explain risks to patients,
it's important for them to first understand how people
perceive health risks. The study also pointed out
that as genetic testing and advanced imaging continues
to offer individuals more information about their
future health, good communication is essential.
"It is not clear whether we should seek to disabuse
people of optimistic 'misperceptions' in pursuit of
changing behavior." Gramling said. "Perhaps we should
work on changing behaviors by instilling more confidence
in the capacity to prevent having a heart attack,
rather than raising fears about having one."