African-American Women and Heart Disease

Heart disease risks and prevention for African-American women

Heart disease risks and prevention for African-American women

Nearly 43 million women are currently living with some form of cardiovascular disease (CVD) in the U.S. It is the leading cause of death of American women – and African-American women have an even greater risk for CVD than Caucasians. 

Among African-American women age 20 and older, 49 percent have heart disease. CVD kills nearly 50,000 African-American women annually. They have almost two times the risk of stroke than Caucasians, and are more likely to have a family history of heart disease.

Risk factors and research

Ironically, African-American women are less likely to know that heart disease is the number one killer of women, even though their risk for CVD is higher than average. Many of the known risk factors for heart disease – high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, smoking, physical inactivity and being overweight – are prevalent among African-American women. Still, only one in five believes she is at risk.

No one knows for sure why African-American women have a higher CVD risk. Historically, clinical research on heart disease has focused primarily on men – a fact that affects women of all races. However, recent research has suggested a genetic sensitivity to salt among African-Americans. This can raise the risk of high blood pressure, which in turn raises the risk of heart disease. More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic blacks have high blood pressure, often developing it earlier in life than other races.

Heart care for women

Women with heart disease often are not accurately diagnosed, and African-American women are less likely to receive medications to help prevent further heart problems. What’s more, they may not have an established primary care physician whom they see on a regular basis. By partnering with a physician who understands the unique needs of women’s hearts and individual risk factors, women can get more appropriate heart care and disease prevention strategies. 

Scripps Women’s Heart Center provides heart care for women, by women. Our female cardiologists are experts in cardiology and integrative medicine, and specialize in female heart disease. We’re dedicated to empowering women to take care of their hearts through education, lifestyle and, when needed, expert medical care.

Check out this infographic to learn more about how heart disease affects African-American women (PDF, 2.4 MB).