Traditional risk assessment applications for detecting cardiovascular illness in a female patient have always been for the most part pretty straightforward and spot-on. However, a recent study published in the Journal of Women's Health said that one of the methods of prediction isn't as accurate as it should be and gives women a "misleading" sense of safety.

The study is based on an evaluation of nearly 9,000 women across 14 cities who were screened for heart-health risks during the 2006 Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation (Chevy Chase, Maryland) National Hearts Day, and shows that the Framingham Risk Score, a frequently used predictor for future heart problems scored nearly 85% of the women in the study as low risk for having coronary problems.

But most of the women studied showed a high prevalence of one or several risk factors for heart disease. Fully 40% had low levels of the good cholesterol (HDL) and 27% had elevated levels of the bad cholesterol (non-HDL). More than half had elevated blood pressure or pre-hypertension. Three-quarters were deemed overweight or obese.

And nearly half of the women were unaware of the association between risk factors such as high blood pressure and their own risk of developing cardiovascular disease.

The study found that nearly one in five of the women with a low-risk Framingham score had three or more risk factors for heart problems, with obesity being the most prevalent. This puts these women at increased lifetime risk for cardiovascular disease.

"First of all, the Framingham Risk Score is not a bad tool," Erin Michos, an author of the study told Medical Device Daily. "But women tend to fall into the low risk category for developing heart disease when taking this assessment. The problem is, is that this assessment covers a 10-year period. So the score might come out low but this can certainly lead to a false reassurance."

Michos, along with Dr. Roger Blumenthal, professor of medicine and director of the Johns Hopkins Ciccarone Center for the Prevention of Heart Disease, (Baltimore), and Irene Pollin, PhD, founder and president of the Sister to Sister: Everyone Has a Heart Foundation, reported on the findings.

Michos added that false reassurance translates into women not making the changes they need to make in their lifestyles before it is too late.

The study concluded that 9,000 women who were screened have a high prevalence of cardiometabolic risk factors, especially dyslipidemia, obesity and high central adiposity, which places them at a higher risk for the development of cardiovascular disease than other comorbidities.

"There are a lot of women out in the community unaware of their condition," she told MDD. "Some don't tend to go to a primary care physician and will only go to their gynecologists. Lots of women are more concerned with developing cancer particularly breast cancer. But studies show that one in nine women will develop breast cancer, while at least one in three will develop heart disease."

Michos said there was a silver lining to the study, however. The participating women were able to making changes in habits and lifestyle to reduce the risk factors for heart disease.

Follow-up with a limited number of study participants indicated that many of them took action to reduce their cardiovascular risks identified at the Sister to Sister screening. More than 70% went to a doctor's office for follow-up care, nearly two-thirds changed their diet, nearly half lost weight and more than three in five increased their physical activity.

"Our goal at Sister to Sister is to emphasize how vital it is for women to be adequately screened for potential cardiovascular disease," Pollin said. "It is critical not only for women but for their families because they typically are the household decision-makers about diet and exercise."

Since 1984 women have been having higher cardiovascular disease mortality rates than men and account for more than half of the nearly 1 million CVD deaths per year in the U.S. CVD is the leading cause of death in women in the U.S.

Sister to Sister is a 501(c)(3) foundation that is dedicated solely to bringing free heart disease screenings and "heart-healthy" information and support to women to prevent heart disease.