Heart disease remains the leading cause of death of all Americans. As of 2018, according to the United States Department of Health and Human Services, African Americans are thirty percent more likely to die from heart disease than their Caucasian counterparts. Moreover, African Americans are 40 percent more likely to experience high blood pressure, and Black women, specifically, are 60 percent more likely to have high blood pressure.
"The contributing factors are multifactorial," board-certified family physician Dr. Gina Charles explains. "For one, historically, African Americans are at an increased risk of heart disease because of socioeconomic barriers such as access to quality health care, higher uninsured rates, low levels of education, higher poverty rate, poor diet, lack of access to affordable healthy foods, inadequate physical activity. In addition, African Americans are at higher risk for hypertension, diabetes, kidney disease, and obesity, which actually worsens the epidemic that is heart disease."
According to the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease includes "several types of heart conditions," with the most common form being coronary artery disease. Though it's been dubbed the "silent killer," some of the signs and symptoms of heart disease include, but are not limited to, high blood pressure, fainting, chest pain, chest tightness, chest pressure, chest discomfort, shortness of breath, pain, loss of feeling, weakness, or coldness in the legs and arms, and pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back, according to The Mayo Clinic.
As reported by the CDC, risk factors for heart disease include hypertension, obesity, high cholesterol, poor diet, lack of physical activity, tobacco use, abuse of alcohol, and diabetes. Genetic predisposition can also contribute to the development of heart disease.
"Preventing heart disease in the AfricanAmerican community is two-fold," continues Dr. Charles. "For one, we must reduce the socioeconomic barriers that disproportionately affect African Americans the most. We can do this by giving African Americans access to quality healthcare. Second, to prevent heart disease, it's important to make some lifestyle changes."
Below are a few measures that can be taken to prevent the development of heart disease.
Keep A Balanced Diet
Maintain a well-balanced diet that includes plenty of fruits and vegetables and a minimum intake of saturated fats, trans fat, cholesterol, and sodium. Also, try to limit alcohol consumption.
Maintain A Healthy Weight
As noted by Penn Medicine, obesity contributes to cardiovascular disease in three ways. First, it can impact cholesterol levels. Second, obesity can result in increased blood pressure since severely overweight individuals "require more blood to supply oxygen and nutrients to their bodies." Lastly, obesity can lead to diabetes, which makes them two to four more times more likely to develop heart disease.
Incorporate Exercise Into Your Routine
Physical activity is essential to cardiovascular health, Dr. Charles explains, noting that engaging in "moderate exercise at least 150 minutes a week" is the sweet spot.
According to the CDC, smoking is a major contributor to cardiovascular disease.
Approximately one of every four deaths from cardiovascular disease is caused by smoking.
Get Regular Check-ups
As noted by The Heart Foundation, regular checkups can help you keep your finger on the pulse of your heart health and risk factors. Coordinating with your physician will help monitor your cholesterol, blood pressure, and blood sugar levels. Additionally, testing is available to determine whether you may already be suffering from heart disease.
"There are several tests that can detect or even diagnose heart disease such as bloodwork, chest X-ray, chest CT, EKG, jolted monitoring, echo, stress test, cardiac catheterization," adds Dr. Charles.