What Black Women Should Understand About Heart Disease

doctor holding stethoscope to heart decal

Heart disease has always existed in my family. My grandfather, whom I adored and loved deeply, was a sufferer of heart disease toward the latter part of his life. In his 70’s, with less than a 30% chance of survival, he had a triple bypass surgery. I remember him confidently telling all of us he would see us when the surgery was over. But, the doctors warned us that his chances of survival were slim.

After hours of surgery, my grandfather successfully made it through the surgery but succumbed to a heart attack less than six months later.

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My father, during this same period, radically changed the way he ate and how much he exercised because he too may have thought if he didn’t do so, that heart disease might impact him as well. But unfortunately, heart disease took the life of yet another family member.

My aunt who was in her early 40’s and who was young, vibrant, and full of life had a heart attack unexpectedly. She died without us having any warning that she was suffering from cardiovascular disease. Her death was a surprise and reiterated to me at an early age that African-American women are also at high risk for heart disease.

Heart disease is a condition which disproportionately affects African Americans. The impact of heart disease on African-American women is often unspoken or not fully known. African-American women are often unaware of this silent killer and it being the leading cause of death.

Heart disease happens when problems are affecting the heart and blood vessels of the heart. Coronary artery disease also known as CAD is the most common type of heart disease and is the leading cause of heart attacks. CAD happens when the coronary arteries surrounding and providing blood supply to the heart lose their elasticity, become hardened and narrow because of the build up of plaque inside the artery. The term for this disease is known as atherosclerosis.

As this narrowing happens in the arteries, blood flow to the heart can stop or slow down. Some of the signs of a heart attack can include chest tightening, shortness of breath, pain that spreads to your shoulders, neck, or arms, or other symptoms.

Interestingly enough, the Black Women’s Health Imperative states that for women, the signs of a heart attack may be less visible.

They can also include:

  • Chest pain that is sharp but temporary
  • Nausea or dizziness
  • Anxiety, weakness, or fatigue
  • Palpitations, cold sweat, or paleness