Heart Disease in African-American Women: What To Look For

Risk factors include high blood pressure, obesity, family history

Black women have higher rates of heart disease than Caucasians.

Risk factors include high blood pressure, obesity, family history

Heart disease is the leading cause of death of American women. African-American women are disproportionally affected.

The risk for heart disease in African-American women is greater than it is for women in other demographic groups.

“Many African-American women aren't even aware that they are at risk, which is why education is so important,” says Poulina Uddin, MD, a cardiologist at Scripps Clinic. “There is a lot you can do to protect your heart.”

“Early intervention is possible, for example, when you know there is heart disease in your family history and can share that information with your physician,” Dr. Uddin adds.

Heart disease and African-American women

According to the American Heart Association (AHA) :

  • Heart disease kill nearly 50,000 African-American women annually. Stroke is the leading cause of death.
  • Among African-American women ages 20 and older, 59 percent have cardiovascular disease.
  • Only 39 percent of Black women are aware that chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack.
  • Only 33 percent of Black women recognize that pain spreading to the shoulder, neck or arms is another potential heart attack sign.
  • Among Black women ages 20 and older, nearly 58 percent have high blood pressure and only around 20 percent of those women have their blood pressure under control.

Heart disease risk factors

Many risk factors for heart disease and stroke are prevalent among African-American women, including:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • Physical inactivity
  • Being overweight
  • Family history of heart disease

“A history of heart disease in your family doesn’t mean you will have heart problems, but it does mean you are at greater risk than others and need to change any behavior that raises your risk,” she adds.

Making heart healthy choices includes:

  • Avoid smoking
  • Eat healthy
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Keep healthy blood pressure

Heart care for women

Women with heart disease often are not accurately diagnosed. Studies show Black 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,” says Dr. Uddin, who is a member of the heart team at the Scripps Women’s Heart Center.

What is the Scripps Women’s Heart Center?

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.

By the numbers: African-American women and heart disease infographic

Infographic for Black History Month.

Black women have a higher rate of hypertension-related heart disease and congestive heart failure compared with Caucasians.

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