These Stats Are Meant to Scare You: Black Women and Heart Disease

June 6, 2011  |  
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The lifestyles of African-American women differ as much as our skin tones.  We’re teachers, students, mothers, daughters, and sisters.  Most importantly, we’re nurturers and in the midst of opening our hearts to everyone we often neglect to take care of them.  Heart disease or cardiovascular disease is the number one killer of all women, and African-American women are at the highest risk for it.  Diabetes, stress, smoking and high blood pressure are common risk factors for cardiovascular disease and common ailments within our culture. Unfortunately, many black women are victims of heart disease because they aren’t educated about these risk factors.  The good news is that if we inform ourselves of the statistics we can take our fear of the unknown and turn it into the strength to begin creating healthier lifestyles.


1. Fewer than half (41%) of all African-American women consider themselves well-informed about cardiovascular disease. (Medical University of South Carolina Heart and Vascular Center)

You can’t properly defend yourself against something you know nothing about.  With
the media placing major emphasis on diseases like breast cancer and HPV, many women are mislead into believing that heart disease isn’t a major threat.  Don’t depend on commercials or Twitter feeds to keep you informed.  Be proactive about your OWN health: Visit your doctor regularly and educate yourself about your risk and your family medical history.


2. African-Americans are 1.5 times as likely as non-Hispanic whites to have high blood pressure. (The Office of Minority Health)

Who knew? High-blood pressure does discriminate, but doctors aren’t quite sure why.  Theories include genetics and the high prevalence of salt in dishes that are popular among African-Americans such as fried foods.  Doctors also believe that blacks are more likely to lead sedentary lifestyles.  Don’t feel discriminated against just yet, these are just theories as to the causes of high-blood pressure.  Nonetheless, the numbers don’t lie.

3. High blood pressure is the leading cause of stroke.  The rate of high blood pressure for non-Hispanic black females age 20 and older is 46 percent. (American Heart Association and Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics –2008 Update)

This means that almost 1 out of 2 young African-American women is at risk for high-blood pressure before they can legally consume their first cocktail.  The younger you develop high-blood pressure, the earlier you become at risk for stroke.  Scary stuff, huh?  Try your best to avoid developing hypertension, but high blood pressure doesn’t have to be a death sentence. With regular exercise and a proper diet, high blood pressure can be easily managed with medication.

4. One in nine women between the ages of 45 and 64 has some form of heart disease; this increases to one in three women over the age of 65. (Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Project)

That’s the problem with heart disease; many women hear “cardiovascular disease” and believe it’s not something they have to worry about until age 50.  The truth is
that there are over 50 forms of heart disease and many types can be avoided with prevention.  Don’t wait until a hospital stay, take your health seriously now.


5. Of people 18 and older, 17.3 non-Hispanic black females smoke, putting themselves at increased risk for heart attack and stroke. (American Heart Association and Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics –2008 Update)

A quick Google search only returned one health benefit of smoking: It prevents or at least delays the onset of Alzheimer’s Disease.  Experts agree that family history and age are what play the biggest part in developing Alzheimer’s, in other words, things you can’t control. With that said, you can control your smoking .  Put down the cigarette which is bad for you in more ways than it is good.  Another important thing to note: High-blood pressure is also a suspected risk factor in Alzheimer’s as well as heart disease.


6. The risk of heart disease and stroke increases with physical inactivity. Physical inactivity is more prevalent in women, African-Americans and Hispanics.  For non-Hispanic black females age 18 and older, 33.9 percent are inactive, compared to 21.6 percent of non-Hispanic white females. (Medical University of South Carolina Heart and Vascular Center)

Most of us African-American women are busy.  We’re working two or more jobs, chasing after our kids, balancing schedules of classes, internships and time with friends.  But being busy isn’t the same thing as being physically active.  You might be working all the time, but does your work require you to sit at a desk all day?  You might be traveling from here to there, but is most of that time spent in a driver’s seat?  It’s important to incorporate physical activity into your daily life.  Having trouble adjusting to a 5 a.m. jog or a workout routine at the gym?  Start small.  Take the stairs instead of the elevator.  Instead of driving to the supermarket, take a walk to your local produce store.  Don’t take the kids to see a movie, instead toss a frisbee at the local park.


7. Cardiovascular disease cost the nation an estimated $326.6 billion in 2000 including health expenditures and lost productivity.  (Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Project)

Health insurance is expensive for a reason, and if you’re lucky enough to have it you can see just how much hospital stays, surgeries and medications can cost and how much your insurance covers.  Disability collection, employee shortages and time off for work for recovery all mean a loss of income for both families and businesses.  The next time you’re complaining about how expensive it is to lead a healthy lifestyle, consider that poor health costs major bucks for both you and your fellow tax payers.


8. African-American women are at a greater risk of dying from heart disease compared with women of other major racial and ethnic groups due to limited access to healthcare, inadequate medical care and delayed diagnosis. (Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Project)

Unfortunately, in the African-American culture thrives a mistrust and fear of the healthcare industry.  Also, it’s not that we don’t have time to get regular physical exams, we don’t MAKE time.  We take our health for granted and don’t believe it is a priority until we are in pain or we are unable to perform comfortably in our daily lives.  Seeing your doctor regularly can make you aware of health complications early before they’re able to do major damage.  You know how you make it a priority to fight through the crowded mall to catch a sale?  Take that same effort to sit in a doctor’s waiting room at least one day of the year. Take advantage of free clinics and low-cost health programs if insurance is an issue.


9. More than 2,600 Americans die each day of cardiovascular disease.  That is an average of 1 death every 33 seconds. (Philadelphia’s Black Women’s Health Project)

If it takes you about five minutes to read this article, about ten people will have died from heart disease complications.  Hundreds more will have experienced strokes, heart attacks or test positively for high-blood pressure.  You don’t have to be one of them.  Instead of those cookies, have a piece of fruit.  Watching Basketball Wives?  Try running on a treadmill while taking in the drama.  Making smart choices now can help guarantee that you won’t be a victim to heart disease later.

10.   Among women, cardiovascular disease claims more lives than the 16 top causes of death combined. (Philadelphia Black Women’s Health Project)

According to the Center for Disease Control, most of us won’t die in the car accidents or violent crimes we hear so much about on the eleven o’ clock news. Heart disease beats out cancer, stroke and diabetes in the top ten leading causes of death in African-American females.  Don’t let a french fry be your downfall.  You don’t have to be a statistic.  By educating yourself about leading a healthy lifestyle and your family medical  history and staying physically active, you can beat the odds.

Are you making conscious decisions about your heart health?

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