February is American Heart Month.
Cardiovascular disease is often dismissed as a middle-aged white man’s disease, but this couldn’t be further from the truth. The risk of cardiovascular disease among women, especially women of color, is poorly understood, yet the statistics speak for themselves. Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all women, and for women of color, particularly African American women, there is a higher risk of stroke and other cardiac events than for all other groups.
In fact, 1 out of 2 Black women over the age of 20 already have heart disease. And more than 4 out of 10 of Black women have high blood pressure, often with salt sensitivity, which presents at an earlier age than white women.
Many women don’t know they’re at risk, which is why it’s so important to raise awareness about what women can do to protect their cardiovascular health.
Read: Fast Facts: What Women Need to Know About Cardiovascular Disease >>
Here are 10 facts about how heart disease affects women of color you might not know:
Non-Hispanic, African American women are twice as likely to have a stroke compared to non-Hispanic white women.
About 4 out of 10 non-Hispanic Black women have high blood pressure.
Black women are more likely to develop high blood pressure at a younger age compared to white women.
Black people are more likely to have salt sensitivity. This means as little as a half-teaspoon of salt can raise blood pressure. Researchers believe this is due to an inherited genetic variant.
Cardiovascular disease rates are increasing in Native American women.
One in 3 Native American women have three or more cardiac risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
Native American women and Native Alaskan women are at greater risk of dying from heart disease before the age of 65.
South Asian women have the highest rate of heart disease among Asian Americans, often without common risk factors.
Hispanic women have a lower cardiovascular risk, but higher rate of diabetes and risk of complications.
Foreign-born East Asian women have the lowest rates of cardiovascular disease. Risk increases for their American-born and raised descendants.
Other groups of women at elevated risk for cardiovascular disease include Native Americans and Native Alaskans diagnosed with diabetes, and South Asian women. Latinx and foreign-born East Asian women have a lower risk of heart disease. Asian-American women are at higher risk than their immigrant grandparents, although still lower than all other groups.
Many factors contribute to these statistics including a lack of access to good medical care and a lack of knowledge of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease which puts women at increased danger of a heart-related event.
Read: Social Determinants of Health, Health Disparities and Health Equity >>
However, there are steps you can take to reduce your risk for cardiovascular disease. These include:
Decrease your risk factors. Quit smoking; reduce sugar, fat and sodium in your diet (the DASH diet is particularly helpful here); get regular exercise and manage your stress.
Make sure you control your weight and diet if you are at risk of diabetes, or are living with diabetes.
If you have high blood pressure, be diligent about taking your medication and keeping regular appointments with your healthcare provider (HCP).
Understand your family medical history. Knowing what illnesses run in your family is the first step toward prevention.
Make sure your HCP understands how gender, race and ethnicity affect cardiovascular health when personalizing your treatment plan.
Make use of resources such as the American Heart Association. The Association of Black Cardiologists also offers educational information about heart disease.