Closing the gap: Understanding heart disease & minorities

You probably know that heart disease is the top cause of death among American men and women. But did you know that it’s more deadly and common among certain groups?

It’s true. While heart disease affects many Americans of both genders, there’s a gap.

What do we mean by gap?

Well, it’s a phrase invoked by Boston Scientific as part of a campaign to raise awareness of cardiovascular disease among women and minorities — and to close the gap.

Here are the facts:

  • Every 34 seconds, someone in the United States experiences a heart-related event, and every one minute, someone dies as a result.
  • One in three deaths are the result of cardiovascular disease, adding up to more than 780,000 American deaths each year.
  • Let’s break that down into number of deaths per day. Each day, more than 2,100 Americans die from heart disease. That’s one death every 40 seconds.

And as sobering as those overall statistics are, let’s now take a look at some facts you might not be as familiar with:

  • More women than men die of cardiovascular disease each year, though more men experience heart attacks.
  • African Americans are more likely to die from heart disease than Caucasians.
  • Women, African Americans and Hispanic Americans at a high risk of heart disease are less likely to receive the necessary lifesaving treatments than Caucasian males.
  • That’s true even for minorities and women in the same social class as Caucasian men and with the same insurance coverage.

So, why is there such a gap — and what can be done to close it? Read on as we take a look.

Heart disease & women

Think that breast cancer is the leading killer among women? Wrong. Heart disease is.

If that’s the case then, why don’t we hear more about women and heart health? That’s changed some in recent years as part of awareness campaigns by the American Heart Association and other organizations, but more work is still needed.

Women, particularly women of color, need to keep a careful eye on their heart health and take steps to lower their heart disease risk:

  1. Get more exercise. Research has shown that only 3 percent— yes, you read that right — of women between ages 20 and 59 get the recommended amount of daily exercise. Aim for at least 30 minutes on most days of the week.
  2. Maintain a healthy weight. Did you know that 60 percent of Caucasian women and around 80 percent of African-American and Mexican-American women are overweight or obese?
  3. Keep an eye on blood pressure. If you’re taking oral contraceptives, this is especially important, since high blood pressure is more than two times more common among women taking birth control pills.

Heart disease & African Americans

African Americans are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and stroke than Caucasians. That’s true for both men and women.

Both African-American men and women are significantly more likely to develop heart failure at an earlier age than their Caucasian counterparts. And with that increased risk comes higher rates of hospitalization, increased disability and a higher rate of premature death.

For African Americans, it’s important to keep an eye on the individual risk factors for heart disease:

  • Maintain a normal blood pressure. African Americans are more likely than most other groups in the world to develop high blood pressure, and women are at a particularly high risk.
  • Know the signs of stroke. Because of the increased risk of high blood pressure, African Americans are also at an increased risk of developing a stroke. Know the signs so you can react quickly if you spot them in someone else.
  • Watch your blood sugar level. This group is almost 80 times more likely to develop diabetes than Caucasians, making it important to have glucose checked regularly, to limit consumption of added sugar and to get regular exercise.

Heart disease & Hispanic Americans

Hispanic and Latino Americans are more likely to develop heart disease than Caucasians due to high rates of blood pressure, obesity and diabetes, which are all key risk factors.

In fact, among Mexican Americans, more than 30 percent of all adults have cardiovascular disease.

For Hispanic Americans, like African Americans, it’s important to keep an eye on the individual risk factors for heart disease:

  • Have regular checkups. Did you know that Hispanic Americans are more than 60 percent more likely to be diagnosed with diabetes than Caucasians? And diabetes is a significant risk factor, with 65 percent of those with the condition dying of heart disease or stroke. Regular checkups can help you keep a check on where your blood sugar levels are — and help you get treatment to lower blood sugar as necessary.
  • Get active. Among Latino Americans, more than 70 percent of both men and women are overweight or obese, and a large percentage don’t get regular physical activity of any sort. Staying physically active and getting in regular workouts can help maintain a normal weight and healthy blood pressure.
  • Avoid excess sodium and fat. A diet that’s filled with sodium and high amounts of unhealthy fats is associated with high blood pressure, a risk factor for heart disease. Keep an eye on both in your diet, and fill your plate with fruits and veggies, lean proteins, and whole grains instead.


Lowering heart disease risk: The bottom line

In order to truly close the gap, it’s important for everyone to take steps to lower heart disease risk. Here are the basics:

  • Get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity on most days of the week.
  • Eat a balanced diet high in fruits and veggies, lean protein, whole grains, low-fat dairy, and healthy fats.
  • Limit your consumption of alcohol, sodium, added sugar and unhealthy fats.
  • Don’t smoke.
  • Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep each night.
  • Know your risk — and take steps to lower it.

Do you want to help us Close the Gap? Talk to your doctor. Know your risk factors. Take charge of your heart health. Learn more here or call 423-778-5661.