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HeartHeart Disease Still Major Threat to African-American Women

Her name is Rhonda and she shares a personal account that is both an eye-opener and a wake up call.

She is an African-American woman who talks about how her busy life was interrupted by an unexpected, unwanted visitor that changed her life forever.

“I was four days post-partum when I experienced a nagging pain in my left arm, shoulder, neck and breast.I took a hot shower to relax my muscles as I attributed the pain to childbirth. The next day that pain came back with vengeance and I experienced the full gamut of symptoms – crushing sub-sternal chest pain, left arm numbness, tingling, pain in my left arm. I broke out sweating, vomiting. Classic male symptoms of a heart attack.The only problem, I wasn’t a middle-aged white male.

I called 911 and was rushed to the hospital by ambulance only to be told that I couldn’t possibly be having a heart attack. I was observed and released. I persisted that it was my heart and continued to seek treatment for a week before anyone listened.

After a seven day heart attack, I was back in the ER again when the same cardiologist said, “Young lady, I’m glad you were persistent. You are having a heart attack and now we have to transfer you downtown to save your life.”

Knowledge can mean the difference between life an death.

With a lot of talk about inequality between men and women, there is one area in particular where women are leading in record numbers: Heart Disease.

Women need to be aware that it is their No. 1 killer of women and is more deadly than all forms of cancer.

The American Heart Association reports that this is number one killer of women, and stroke disproportionately affects African-Americans in particular.

The sad part about it is African-American women are less likely than White women to be aware that heart disease is the leading cause of death.

Coupled with that risk are other health threats including, diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, physical inactivity, obesity and a family history of heart disease all are greatly threats to the health of Black women.

African-American women have almost two times the risk of stroke than Caucasians, and more likely to die at an earlier age when compared to women of other ethnicities.

Here are a few unsettling stats:

  • Cardiovascular diseases kill nearly 50,000 African-American women annually.
  • Of African-American women ages 20 and older, 49 percent have heart diseases.
  • Only 1 in 5 African-American women believes she is personally at risk.
  • Only 52 percent of African-American women are aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Only 36 percent of African-American women know that heart disease is their greatest health risk.

What causes Heart Disease?

Heart disease affects the blood vessels and cardiovascular system. Numerous problems can result from this, many of which are related to a process called atherosclerosis, a condition that develops when plaque builds up in the walls of the arteries. This buildup narrows the arteries, making it harder for blood to flow through. If a blood clot forms, it can stop the blood flow. This can cause a heart attack or stroke.

But it doesn’t end there. Heart disease can take many other forms as well:

  • Heart failure or congestive heart failure, which means that the heart is still working, but it isn’t pumping blood as well as it should, or getting enough oxygen.
  • Arrhythmia or an abnormal rhythm of the heart, which means the heart is either beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. This can affect how well the heart is functioning and whether or not the heart is able to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs.
  • Heart valve problems can lead to the heart not opening enough to allow proper blood flow. Sometimes the heart valves don’t close and blood leaks through, or the valve leaflets bulge or prolapse into the upper chamber, causing blood to flow backward through them.

African American women should be aware of the following facts:

  • Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for African American women.
  • Of African American women ages 20 and older, 46.9 percent have cardiovascular disease
  • Only 1 in 5 African American women thinks she is personally at risk.
  • Nearly 50 percent of African American women are aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack.
  • Only 43 percent of African American know that heart disease is their greatest health risk.

How can it be prevented?

Many things can put you at risk for these problems – one’s you can control, and others that you can’t. But the key takeaway is that with the right information, education and care, heart disease in women can be treated, prevented and even ended.

Studies show that healthy choices have resulted in 330 fewer women dying from heart disease per day. Here are a few lifestyle changes you should make:

  • Don’t Smoke
  • Manage your blood sugar
  • Get your blood pressure under control
  • Lower your Cholesterol
  • Know your family history
  • Stay Active
  • Lose weight
  • Eat healthy