Need to Know: Why is Heart Disease so Prevalent in African American Women?

Need to Know: Why is Heart Disease so Prevalent in African American Women?

February 23rd, 2022
Woman making heart with hands

Ladies, take a moment and envision yourself setting a timer for 10 minutes while dinner bakes in the oven. By the time that timer beeps, around 15 people in the United States will have experienced a heart attack. Every 40 seconds someone in the US has a heart attack according to the CDC. In fact, heart disease is the number one killer of both men and women. February is American Heart Month, and although heart health is not our speciality at Women’s Surgery & Aesthetic’s Center, we care about all health matters related to women. Black History Month is also in February, and heart disease is more prevalent in black females than in caucasian females. Due to this, we have decided to use this month’s blog to educate African American women about their risk in an effort to save lives. 

Let’s Talk Numbers

80%. That is the percentage of cardiovascular disease and stroke that can be prevented according to the American Heart Association. However, it is estimated that only 36% of African American women realize that heart disease is their greatest health risk. On top of that, of all African American women over the age of 20, close to 50% have heart disease, and many of them just might not know it. Our goal in sharing these numbers is not to cause fear but to encourage African American women to take action in talking to their primary care providers about their risk and ways it can be lowered. 

Why are African American Women at a Greater Risk? 

Researchers have been working to answer this question. The American Heart Association said that researchers did find a gene that they believe makes African Americans more sensitive to the effects of salt. This means that their risk of developing high blood pressure is greater, and high blood pressure can lead to heart disease. In addition, black men and women are more likely to have diabetes or be overweight. Both of these are heart disease risk factors. 

Risk Factors & Taking Action

Risk factors play a major role in increasing a person’s risk of developing heart disease. In fact, the more risk factors you have, the higher your risk. The vast number of risk factors you can change simply by making heart-healthy lifestyle choices. However, there is not anything you can do about your risk of heart disease caused by your family history and age. Preeclampsia, which makes a woman’s risk of developing heart disease twice as high, can also be included in this group. 

Other risk factors include high blood pressure, obesity, high cholesterol levels, type 2 diabetes and prediabetes. These factors can be improved simply by making changes to your eating and exercise habits. When it comes to eating, make sure you are not eating too many foods that are high in saturated and trans fats, which can raise your cholesterol levels. Avoid foods high in sodium as well to keep your blood pressure levels down. Added sugars and alcoholic beverages should be limited too. Instead, opt for whole-grain items and fruits and vegetables full of nutrients and vitamins. Make sure you drink plenty of water every day as well. In terms of exercise habits, the Department of Health and Human Services recommends that everyone gets 2.5 hours of moderate physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous physical activity each week. Find an activity you enjoy like kickboxing, walking, running, or swimming and get moving because being physically active can lower your risk of heart disease by 20-35%. (Source)

One final tip to lower your risk is to completely cut out smoking. Both the person smoking and anyone who is exposed to secondhand smoke long-term is at an increased risk of heart disease. 

Talk to Your Doctor 

Bringing up heart disease with your doctor can be scary, however, speaking up can save your life. To begin lowering your risk of heart disease, you first need to know your risk. Your physician can provide you with additional health tips and can make sure you understand the signs of heart attack and stroke to look for. 

Each year, close to 50,000 African American women die from cardiovascular disease. That is 50,000 women too many. Together we can work to lower this number and save lives. To learn more about cardiovascular disease, we encourage you to visit the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women website.