In many cases, such afflictions have gone unnoticed among African Americans due to neglect. In fact, experts say that 80% of heart disease and heart attacks are preventable with knowledge of your risk factors, medication, and lifestyle changes.
A Critical Situation
In the United States alone, heart disease is responsible for 40% of all deaths, more than all forms of cancer combined. The American Heart Association reports that heart disease claimed 864,480 lives in 2005, compared to 559,312 cancer-related deaths; 117,809 death caused by accidents; and 12,543 deaths due to complications from the HIV/AIDS virus.
In 2006, death rates from CVD were 306.6 for white males and 422.8 for black males; 215.5 for white females and 298.2 for black females. (Death rates are per 100,000 population).
According to Dr. Christopher Leggett, director of Cardiology for Medical Associates of North Georgia and one of BE’s Top Doctors, African American women and men have the nation’s highest prevalence rate related to heart disease at 45.9%, superseding 37.8% and 33.3% rates for white men and women, respectively. The reason blacks represent the greatest at-risk group: A high prevalence of risk factors such as hypertension, obesity, and diabetes. Says Leggett: “For every 10 diabetics, eight are going to die from heart attacks.”
A Preventable Disease
Author of Heart Smart for Black Women and Latinas (St. Martin’s Griffin; $13.95), Dr. Jennifer Mieres, director of nuclear cardiology at the New York University Medical Center and one of be’s Top Doctors, maintains heart disease is preventable and encourages patients to participate in designing their own wellness program. “Heart disease is one of those things that’s sort of silent,” she says. “Plaque builds up in the arteries and you sometimes don’t know anything until you start having chest pains. For the unlucky people, there are no warning signs and they just die of heart attacks.”
Mieres explains the lining of arteries that supply blood to the heart deteriorates over time due to high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, obesity, smoking, and diabetes. Once the lining weakens, it acts as a foundation for the build-up of fatty plaque which can cause the formation of blood clots. As a result, these clots prevent blood flow to heart muscles, causing heart attacks and other severe problems.
She believes the best protection is maintenance and prevention through four simple lifestyle changes: Exercise or, as Mieres says, “choosing to move” for 30 minutes at least five to six days a week. Exercise increases HDL (good cholesterol) and decreases LDL (bad cholesterol) which, in turn, helps to prevent heart disease.
Avoid smoking. According to the AHA, cigarette smoking is the leading cause of premature death in the United States. Cigarette smokers have a higher risk of developing chronic disorders such as fatty buildup in arteries and coronary heart disease. Also avoid second-hand smoke.
Change your diet. Eat five daily servings of heart-healthy foods such as fruits and vegetables; broiled or baked dishes—skip the french fries; and put down the salt shaker.