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The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that heart disease is the leading cause of death in men and women in the United States, with coronary heart disease the most prominent type of heart disease. While heart disease is often associated with older individuals, the CDC states that two out of 10 coronary heart disease-related deaths every year are in people under the age of 65. While heart disease is the leading cause of death for people of most ethnic and racial groups, it does impact minority groups at a higher rate and the Black community is among the top three that are hit hardest by this disease. Approximately 23 percent of all deaths in the Black community are due to heart disease.

The American Heart Association states that 80 percent of cardiovascular disease is preventable. With roughly 18 million adults over the age suffering from heart disease, that 80 percent represents millions of preventable cases. So how do we bridge the gap between where we could be as a country with heart disease, and where we are? This question is especially important for minority groups who die at a higher rate from heart disease. We spoke with esteemed OB/GYN and women’s health expert Dr. Shepherd, who works passionately at raising awareness on issues impacting underrepresented groups. Dr. Shepherd shared what the Black community needs to know about heart disease.

MADAMENOIRE: Why Is Heart Disease So Widespread?

Jessica Shepherd, MD: There are many misconceptions about heart disease and when knowledge about a disease or its risks are not completely understood, it can take many steps to see some associated behavior modifications. Also, heart disease is often silent at first and it is hard to see its potential consequences and can often put people in complex stages of hypertension before it is managed.


What are some of the biggest predictors of heart disease?

Studies have shown that there are four main risk factors that are the strongest predictors of heart failure, and these include high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, being overweight and also cholesterol levels – specifically low levels of HDL. Genetic information can also play an important role in diagnosing an inherited condition like heart disease, understanding unexplained symptoms and proactively preparing for the future.


How can genetic testing be of help when it comes to preventing heart disease? 

Knowledge is power, and medical genetic testing (vs. recreational tests) can equip people with important knowledge. Taking a medical genetic test—such as the Invitae Cardio Screen— can increase your knowledge of specific risk factors, which can result in actionable lifestyle changes that help minimize the risk of complications and long-term health issues. Many people don’t know to ask about genetic testing with their doctor or seek it out themselves, but it’s such an important piece of our overall health that I recommend for patients.


What is the biggest obstacle facing the Black community when it comes to having better heart health?

There are many obstacles that face the Black community, and to help prevent this group from having these outcomes, it should be emphasized that attaining an adequate level of knowledge about heart disease and changing behaviors can make a significant contribution to reducing the prevalence of heart disease among Black communities.


If one were to speak with their family about their medical history, what questions should they ask? 

Health history is important however it can be difficult to obtain sometimes. There are different ways to get family health information. It may be one point person to get all the health information from various relatives or sometimes it can involve a private conversation. It can be an emotionally charged topic but always focus on the importance of having a family health history. It is also important to listen carefully to the answers and be respectful and as patient as possible.

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