What Black Americans need to know about heart disease

Time for a call to action!

Eighty-two million American adults have heart disease.

Heart disease can be any problem that does not allow the heart to pump blood. Coronary artery disease leads to chest pain, shortness of breath, heart failure, heart attack and stroke. Arrhythmias are where the heart is beating too fast or too slow. (We know it as atrial fibrillation or Afib.)

Of the major causes of death, heart disease is the number-one killer in the United States. And the risks are even higher for Black Americans!

Next are cancer (22 percent), accidents (5.7 percent), homicide (4.9 percent), then diabetes and kidney disease.

Facts on Black Americans and heart disease

  • Disparities in health care do exist. The reasons are complex and include our health system, understanding of our providers, and our own acceptances and compliance of the recommended care.
  • Black Americans are at greater risk for cardiovascular disease and stroke than White Americans.
  • Black women (49 percent) and Black men (44 percent) have higher rates of heart disease than White men (37 percent) and White women (32 percent).
  • Between the ages of 45 and 64, Black men have a 70 percent higher risk and Black women have a 50 percent greater risk of developing heart failure than White men and women.
  • The earlier onset of heart failure means higher rates of hospitalization, earlier disability, and higher rates of premature death (death before the age of 65) for Black Americans.
  • The annual rate of first heart attacks and first strokes is higher for Black Americans than White Americans.

Facts on Black Americans and risk factors

  • The prevalence of high blood pressure (hypertension) in Black Americans is among the highest in the world, and it is increasing. Rates are particularly high for Black women.
  • In addition, Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life, and their average blood pressure numbers are much higher than Whites. As a result, Blacks have a 1.3-times greater rate of nonfatal stroke, a 1.8-times greater rate of fatal stroke, and a 1.5-times greater rate of death attributable to heart disease than Whites.
  • Black Americans are 77 percent more likely than White Americans to be diagnosed with diabetes.
  • Black and Hispanic adults are more likely to be inactive (39.4 percent and 39.8 percent, respectively) than White adults (26.2 percent).
  • Black (80 percent) and Mexican American (78 percent) women are more likely to be overweight or obese than White women (60 percent).

Take charge of your heart health 

Although the statistics above paint a troubling picture of Black Americans and heart disease, all is not lost! There are three simple things you can do to reduce your risk for heart disease, starting today.

1. Know your risk factors

Although you can’t change your age or heredity, there are many other risk factors for heart disease that you can control. Increasing age and family history we can do nothing about. But diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, physical inactivity, overweight and obesity, smoking, stress to some degree, and alcohol use, these we can do something about.

These risk factors are not additive, but rather multipliers of your chance to develop heart disease. Having three of the risk factors makes you 10 times more likely to develop heart disease.

2. Talk to your doctor.

At your next doctor’s appointment, bring a heart health scorecard to help assess your risk for heart disease. Scorecards are available online.

Be honest in your self-assessments. Take interest in test results. Know your numbers.

Be compliant with your medications. Statins lower the chance of heart attack by 30-35 percent. Ones that you may know are Crestor, Lovastatin and Lipitor.

Know the side effects of the medications.

3. Reduce your risk.

Making simple, healthy lifestyle changes can reduce your risk for heart disease. Take charge of your life.

Eat a healthy diet. Heart health is determined by the foods you eat. Dietary supplements are not healthy. Vitamin D and calcium are found to be beneficial.

Enjoy regular exercise. Maintain a healthy weight. Please stop smoking. Reduce your blood sugar. Control your cholesterol. Manage your blood pressure. Manage stress. Minimize if not quit alcohol consumption. Know your numbers.

David Hamlar MD, DDS is an assistant professor in the Department of Otolaryngology, Head and Neck Surgery at the University of Minnesota. He specializes craniofacial skull base surgery. He attended Howard University College of Dentistry (DDS) and Ohio State University (MD), and came to Minnesota for his fellowship in facial plastic and reconstructive surgery. Besides medicine, he is a retired Minnesota National Guardsman achieving the rank of major general. His passion today is empowering students of color to achieve their dreams of entering the medical professions as well as other STEM-oriented careers.