While heart disease is the leading cause of death for all men and women in the U.S., the risk of heart disease and stroke is even higher for Black Americans.
One recent study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that Black Americans were at higher risk for high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity: all of which are risk factors for heart and blood vessel disease.
“When we look at the research, we see that people in the Black community are at higher risk of developing the risk factors that can lead to heart disease,” says Dr. Merije Chukumerije, a cardiologist at Cedars-Sinai.
Dr. Chukumerije says that there are several reasons why heart disease can be more prevalent in the Black community, including socioeconomic status, access to care and disparities in health equity.
Intervening before the risk of heart disease increases
In order to combat this complex issue, Dr. Chukumerije says there needs to be more of a focus on prevention and intervention.
“I definitely see a higher proportion of older patients who have a chronic disease, like coronary heart disease,” Dr. Chukumerije says. “These health conditions don’t just suddenly develop.”
If doctors and healthcare professionals can identify these conditions in Black Americans and intervene sooner, the lower their risk of heart disease will be.
“For example, if a Black man or woman in their 20s or 30s appears to have high cholesterol or high blood pressure, then we should address these health risks from the start,” Dr. Chukumerije says. “If we don’t first detect and then address them, they can go untreated for decades. It’s more common for patients to see a cardiologist when they’re older, but by that time, the damage to the heart and cardiovascular system has been done.”
Cultural competency is key
In addition to prevention and intervention, lowering the risk of heart disease in the Black community involves a fair amount of cultural competency.
“As a healthcare provider, you have to understand what those in certain communities go through when they leave your medical office or clinic,” Dr. Chukumerije says.