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Immigrants underestimate their risk of cardiovascular disease

(Vienna, 25th November 2013) In Austria, more people die as a result of cardiovascular disease than from any other illness: it affects 37.1 per cent of men and 48.2 per cent of women. However many people – and especially women with a migrant background – are unaware of their risk of developing cardiovascular disease. Jeannette Strametz-Juranek from the University Department of Internal Medicine II at the MedUni Vienna has highlighted this fact on the occasion of the “Zonta Golden Heart Symposium” on heart health in older women, being held in Vienna on 30 November.

A study by the MedUni Vienna has demonstrated that second-generation female Turkish immigrants on average have a higher risk at 38 years and males with the same immigration background at 40 years due to obesity and smoking, although they are completely unaware of this. For non-migrants, this risk “only” starts at 43 for women and 56 for men. “Austrians are not particularly aware of their risk either,” says Strametz-Juranek. 

Summary: “The total of 573 women and 336 men surveyed with a migration background were unable to estimate their personal risk and are very much unaware of the problem.” More than 50 per cent of each gender group markedly underestimated their risk of cardiovascular disease. The scientists have identified two crucial barriers: first is the linguistic barrier, and second is a familial one – especially among women, who primarily filled out the Turkish questionnaire, while the men largely filled out the German one.

It is the women in families that lead the way in terms of health: since 1996 in the USA, for example, there has been a successful cardiological health programme in place for women (Go Red for Women). “This has shown that within 15 years, heart health among women born in the USA and their families has improved significantly. We’ve also seen, however, that this effect has not been reproduced among women of Hispanic and black origin,” says the MedUni Vienna researcher.

Integration as a health promotion tool
With the support of the MedUni Vienna, a heart health folder has now been created in Turkish, English, Hungarian and Serbo-Croatian that aims to help reduce barriers for immigrants. Since April 2011, the Medical University of Vienna has also been involved with the EU project “Restore”, which focuses on providing basic medical care support for immigrants.

The head of the project in Austria is Wolfgang Spiegel from the University Department of Psychiatry and Psychotherapy: “To determine where patients are experiencing problems, we’re also interested in the issues that are associated with the perception of disease.” Namely too, issues such as fears, hopes or the social and family-related consequences of illness. “Where there are still linguistic and cultural barriers, a mutually trusting doctor/patient relationship is difficult to establish.” The project will continue to run until 31 March 2015.

Service: Gender Medicine “Effect of Gender on Awareness of Cardiovascular Risk Factors, Preventive Action Taken, and Barriers to Cardiovascular Health in a Group of Austrian Subjects.” T. Haidinger, M. Zweimüller, L. Stütz, D. Demir, A. Kaider, J. Strametz-Juranek. doi:10.1016/j.genm.2012.02.001.

Date for the diary: Zonta Golden Heart Symposium “Das Herz der älteren Frau” on 30 November 2013 in Café Griensteidl, Michaelerplatz 2, 1010 Vienna. Registration and info: office@zontagoldenheart.com or www.zontagoldenheart.com.