Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women in the U.S. And African American women have an even higher risk of dying from heart disease and at a younger age, than white women, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. Dr. LaPrincess Brewer, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, says this serious issue is compounded by the fact that many African American women are not aware of their risk. “Each year, more African American women die from heart disease than breast cancer, lung cancer and strokes combined,” says Dr. Brewer.
Heart disease describes a range of conditions that affect the heart. Heart diseases include:
- Blood vessel disease, such as coronary artery disease
- Irregular heartbeats (arrhythmias)
- Heart problems you’re born with (congenital heart defects)
- Disease of the heart muscle
- Heart valve disease
Many forms of heart disease can be prevented or treated with healthy lifestyle choices.
But what are the factors that increase their risk of developing heart disease?
“African Americans have the highest hypertension rates in the world. African American women are also the least physically active group of women in the United States. Now’s the time that we focus on changing the narrative on heart health and African American women.” Dr. Brewer says African American women face a high burden of negative social determinants of health, such as chronic stress related to factors like food insecurity, systematic racism, the wealth gap and socioeconomically disenfranchised communities. These factors can prevent them from living a healthy lifestyle and controlling many heart disease risk factors.
It’s important these health disparities are addressed on community and societal levels. Dr. Brewer says it’s also going to take interventions from each person. “I truly recommend that African American women be diligent to protect their own hearts and also take time for themselves. Self-care really does matter,” says Dr. Brewer.
Dr. Brewer recommends that all women keep heart health as a priority and follow the American Heart Association’s “Life’s Essential 8” lifestyle changes to achieve ideal heart health:
- Manage blood pressure.
- Control cholesterol.
- Reduce blood sugar.
- Get active.
- Eat better.
- Lose weight.
- Stop smoking.
- Get healthy sleep.
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