Understanding risks of heart disease can save lives

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Heart disease is the number one cause of death across all races. Forty percent of African-American adults have some form of heart disease, and they are 30 percent more likely to die from it than whites. African-American men are also less likely to have their blood pressure under control than white men, contributing to the risk of heart disease.


Heart disease involves damage to the heart or the arteries that go to the heart.

Atherosclerosis is when the arteries have plaques made of fat and cholesterol that make the vessels narrow.

A person has a heart attack when the arteries are so clogged that blood and oxygen cannot get to the heart. As a result, heart muscle dies or becomes scarred. The more time the arteries remain clogged, the more damage occurs.

Every 34 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a heart attack. During big heart attacks where the blockage is from a huge clot, the patient may require a stent to physically open the blockage, medication to break up the clot or even bypass surgery if the arteries cannot be opened using the other methods.

Angina usually causes chest pain when the heart needs more blood and oxygen than can get around the plaques. This usually happens during exercise or times of stress when the heart needs more oxygen.

The heart is also often damaged from untreated high blood pressure. Sometimes, the heart is so damaged and scarred that it can not pump as much blood as usual, called heart failure. Because it cannot pump well, the patient can develop fluid in the lungs with shortness of breath or leg swelling.

Black Americans are more likely to have heart failure, get worse faster and suffer more severely. The CDC estimates that there are approximately 700,000 black Americans with heart failure in the United States. Black Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 are 2.5 times more likely to die from heart failure than white Americans in the same age range.

The typical symptoms of a heart attack are left-sided or central chest pain, described as squeezing, pressure, heaviness. It can radiate to both arms, back, neck, jaw or stomach. Big heart attacks can start suddenly as the clot suddenly clogs the artery, but most heart attacks start slowly with moderate discomfort.

Other symptoms of a heart attack can include shortness of breath, breaking out into a cold sweat, nausea, vomiting or lightheadedness. These are the symptoms women tend to have when they do not have the typical chest-clutching pain like in the movies.

If there is any concern about a heart attack, tell a doctor and have it checked out, especially if the person has risk factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, cigarette smoking, high cholesterol or family history of heart disease.


The rates of heart disease overall have improved, but the disparity still exists among African-Americans.


The main ways to prevent heart disease is to quit smoking, lower cholesterol, control high blood pressure, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. If you have diabetes, lose weight and take medications as prescribed to keep blood glucose, or sugar, down.


Association of Black Cardiologists have community outreach programs to teach those in the black community about heart disease.