The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) report that heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for 1 in 4 deaths. Research shows that major risk factors for heart disease — like diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity, obesity, high blood pressure, and high blood cholesterol — are more prevalent in Black American communities. In fact, death from heart disease is more common among Black women than white women.
What is heart disease?
The term “heart disease” refers to a range of conditions, including:
- Coronary artery disease: A condition caused by plaque buildup in the walls of the arteries that supply blood to the heart. This often leads to a heart attack.
- Arrythmia: An irregular heartbeat (too fast or too slow).
- Cardiomyopathy: A condition that makes it harder for your heart to pump blood to the rest of your body. It can lead to heart failure.
Why is it more common in Black American women?
Hypertension (high blood pressure) is one of the major risk factors for heart disease. Studies show that nearly 58% of Black American women age 20 and older have high blood pressure. Researchers found that a gene may make Black Americans much more sensitive to the effects of salt, which in turn increases the risk for developing high blood pressure. Data also shows that Black women have the highest rates of diabetes and obesity and the second highest rates of high cholesterol and hypertension.
According to Dr. Nicole Thomas-Sealey, vice president of clinical education at AdvantageCare Physicians*, “The history of the mistreatment and health inequities of Black women, in the not-too-distant past – and present – has led to a feeling of mistrust for many. It is very important for all providers to be aware of these concerns very early in the patient-provider relationship and address the need for trust to improve patient outcomes.”
What can you do to lower your risk?
Dr. Thomas-Sealey believes, “Once the barrier of mistrust is removed, many Black women who may have been resistant will be open to reducing the risk factors related to heart disease. Trust, open conversation, and respect are key elements to tackling many disease processes.”
Campaigns, like National Wear Red Day and Go Red for Women, help shed light on these issues and encourage development of solutions.
Research shows that Black American women may be less likely than others to receive preventive treatment such as medicine to lower blood pressure, advice about weight control, and help to quit smoking. That’s why women must advocate for themselves during medical appointments.
To look out for their health, women should:
- Know the signs and symptoms of heart disease.
- Review their family’s heart health history and share it with their medical provider.
- Find a primary care provider with whom they feel comfortable. EmblemHealth members can find an in-network doctor here.
- Always schedule their annual physical.
Want to know more? Listen to experts from AdvantageCare Physicians talk more about women’s heart health.