Health Note: Blood Pressure Diabetes and High Cholesterol Increase Heart Disease Risk for Blacks

Annrose M. Guarino  |  12/12/2012 3:56:55 AM

Black man

Black woman are at higher risk of heart disease

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Researchers say black men and women have double whites’ risk of dying of coronary heart disease, which is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. Black adults' have a higher rate of smoking, diabetes and high blood pressure, and they tend to be heavier than whites.

At the University of Alabama at Birmingham, Monika Safford studied 24,000 people nationwide for about four years. The common causes of heart disease are the same for blacks and whites: High blood pressure, diabetes, high cholesterol. So the overall heart disease risk in blacks is much higher than it is in whites.

Dr. Safford said the result is very similar to data from the 1990s, even though public health efforts have focused on these health issues.

The research included middle-aged and older adults who had blood and urine tests and a general health check in 2003 through 2007. At the start of the study, no one had heart disease.

In the first four-plus years, 659 people developed some kind of heart disease, including heart attacks and heart failure. About one-third of the heart disease "events" were fatal.

The researchers found the higher death rate in blacks could be explained by them having higher heart risks at the beginning of the study. For example, close to one in three black men and women had diabetes at the start of the study, versus one in six white participants.

Safford indicated genetics may put black adults at a higher risk for uncontrolled high blood pressure. When it comes to high cholesterol, fewer blacks take cholesterol lowering medications. And black adults may not be accessing quit-smoking programs - or other preventive care - as often as whites.

The results of the study implied that healthcare providers need to do a better job with African Americans to get their risk factors treated and get them to recognize symptoms of cardiovascular disease. Health education in these communities may improve their lifestyles, whatever their race or ethnicity. Issues such as economic and educational disparities will have to be considered to create significant changes in health trends.

The average 45-year-old man has a 60 percent chance of having a stroke, heart attack or heart disease sometime in his life, according to an analysis of multiple long-term studies. A 45-year-old woman has a 56 percent risk. Even middle-aged adults who are non-smokers, normal weight and have no other heart risks have a more than 30 percent chance of eventually developing heart disease according to work conducted by Dr. John Wilkins of Northwestern University in Chicago.

The study was supported by the National Institutes of Health.

Sources from the Journal of the American Medical Association, online November 5, 2012:

Adapted with permission from I. Dreyfuss with HHS HealthBeat, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

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