Cardiovascular Disease & The African-American Patient

By Anthony Dorsey, MD

Cardiovascular disease has been the number one cause of death in the U.S. for over 100 years. This holds true across racial and gender lines. However, the African-American community has a higher incidence of cardiovascular disease risk factors, such as high blood pressure, diabetes, tobacco abuse, sedentary lifestyle and obesity. These risk factors increase a person’s chance for heart attacks, stroke, kidney failure and poor circulation in limbs (known as peripheral artery disease) and contribute to the development of atherosclerosis (a build up of plaque in the arteries), which prevents an adequate supply of oxygen rich blood and nutrients from reaching vital organs and limbs.

Every hour an African American dies from complications related to uncontrolled high blood pressure. Most of these deaths are attributed to heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure. Approximately 30 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure and less than 25 percent of these individuals are controlled on medical therapy. Thirteen percent of African Americans have diabetes.

High cholesterol is another risk factor in the African American community, which is also undertreated compared to Caucasian patients and is less often treated with appropriate cholesterol lowering drugs. Another significant risk factor is genetics. It is important for individuals to be aware of a history of cardiovascular disease in first degree relatives, such as parents and siblings, which may put one at risk for heart disease and stroke, even if symptoms are not present.

Primary prevention is very important to address the epidemic of cardiovascular disease in the African American community. Since risk factors are presenting earlier in life, it becomes important to screen some individuals during childhood and adolescent years, especially if they are obese or have first degree relatives who have had premature heart attack and strokes. Studies have shown the onset of high blood obese or if there is a family history of premature cardiovascular disease in first degree relatives, then this screening should be performed even earlier.

As patients become aware of risk factors and appropriate screening tests are performed, we can shorten the racial gap of cardiovascular disease. Stay informed and take an active role in becoming healthier. Adjust your lifestyle with a more healthy diet and increase exercise and aerobic activity. Medical therapy may also need to be initiated to ensure that optimal control of high blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol levels are maintained. The future health of African American community will depend on how well we meet these requirements.

Dr. Anthony Dorsey
Board Certified Cardiologist
Atlanta Heart Specialists, LLC


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