Background Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death in women. Risk factors include smoking, hypertension, dyslipidemia, diabetes mellitus, and obesity. Without an understanding of these risk factors, women are poorly prepared to carry out preventive self-care actions to reduce their risk.

Objectives To describe perceptions of cardiovascular risk factors and risk-reducing behaviors among women with newly diagnosed coronary heart disease.

Methods A descriptive study was done in a large midwestern suburban hospital. A nonprobability sample of 33 women with coronary heart disease completed a mail questionnaire. Data were collected by using the Coronary Heart Disease Knowledge Test, the Health-Promoting Lifestyle Profile II, and questions developed for the study.

Results Thirty-three women responded. Mean age was 65.64 years (range, 36–85 years; SD, 11.32 years); mean educational level was 12.67 years (range, 8–18 years; SD, 1.79 years). Most of the respondents could not identify personal cardiovascular risk factors; the risks identified were considerably fewer and differed from those documented in the women’s medical records. Women reported moderate levels of most risk-reducing behaviors and low levels of physical activity.

Conclusions Women with coronary heart disease may not know what risk factors they have. Women must have their risk factors assessed and should be counseled about those risks.

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