…blood clots to form in the heart, travel to the brain, causing a stroke. Stroke risk with AFib is five times greater than in someone without the disease, and AFib-related strokes can be especially debilitating and deadly.
Interestingly, research studies cite a lower incidence of AFib in African-Americans compared to whites, especially as they age. This is despite a higher burden of risk factors for AFib among African-Americans, including high blood pressure and diabetes.
Nevertheless, the under-recognized part of this story is that, while AFib incidence may be lower, AFib-related strokes are twice as likely to occur in African-Americans compared to white individuals, according to the July 2016 issue of JAMA Cardiology.
Results from the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities (ARIC) Study also found that racial differences in adverse outcomes of AFib extend beyond stroke to heart failure, coronary heart disease, and overall deaths. Sponsored by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute at the NIH, the large ARIC study concluded that these disparities in heart disease and strokes present a dangerous scenario for African-American AFib patients.
Additional research has also found that African-American individuals with AFib are less likely to be put on anticoagulant therapy to reduce their risk of stroke. For those with a greater risk of stroke, anticoagulant or blood-thinning medications help prevent the dangerous clots that can lead to stroke.
It is important for doctors and other health-care providers to be aware of these findings, but the medical professional guidelines for diagnosing and treating AFib do not yet include attention to racial disparities. There needs to be increased research on the causes and solutions to these disparities and we need to get to the bottom of why these differences exist. For example, potential causes include disparities in access to diagnosis and treatment for AFib, differences in what patients prefer, or biases on the part of providers?
This is all a classic case of “what you don’t know can hurt you,” which brings us back to your New Year’s resolutions. The Celebrating a Year Without a Stroke Campaign encourages everyone with AFib, and their family caregivers, to ask questions, learn more about their risk, and get and stay on their recommended treatment.
A Year Without a Stroke is a year you can enjoy doing all the things you worked all of your life to finally do. Let’s make 2017 a year to celebrate!
Visit www.YearWithoutaStroke.org to learn more.
Cassandra A. McCullough, MBA, is Chief Executive Officer of the Association of Black Cardiologists and Susan Peschin, MHS, is President and CEO of the Alliance for Aging Research.