African Americans More Vulnerable to Heart Problems

By Richard Olstein, MD

Despite all the advances the medical community has made in the treatment of coronary heart disease, preventing the occurrence of heart attacks, strokes and other forms of vascular disease remains essential to our fight against this No. 1 killer in America. In this fight, a portion of our community remains particularly susceptible — African Americans.

African Americans have a higher chance of death if they suffer a heart attack compared to Caucasians. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2007, African American men were 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease compared to Caucasians. The explanations for this disparity have not been discovered. What’s clear is that preventing heart disease is one’s best chance of living a longer and healthier life. The only way to prevent heart disease is to control or prevent the classic risk factors.  These controllable risk factors include high blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol and smoking.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is nearly 1.5 times more common in the African American population. In addition to leading to heart attacks and strokes, hypertension increases your chance of developing heart failure, kidney failure and vision loss. The goal is to reduce your blood pressure to less than 140/90 mmHg. This can sometimes be accomplished with a low salt/sodium diet and exercise, but often requires medications. Medications that are often particularly effective in African Americans include diuretics, or “water pills,” and calcium channel blockers. Continue reading