Heart disease has haunted generations of Robin Drummond's family. "I have a
family history of
heart disease on both sides," says the 55-year-old African-American and
resident of Hammond, La. "I've had uncles, aunts, and grandparents who've died
heart attacks and heart disease, and two of my mother's brothers died four
months apart. One had a heart attack in church, and four months later, one had
a heart attack in the post office."
When Drummond's father succumbed to heart disease at age 50,
she was shaken. "Particularly when my dad died, I wanted to make sure that I
was OK," she says. In 2002, she went to her doctor for testing and learned that
her heart was mildly enlarged, placing her at risk for
heart failure. Drummond, a registered dietitian, took strenuous measures to
ward off trouble. But not all African-Americans are aware of the danger.
It's the news you don't want to hear from your cardiologist: One or more of your coronary arteries -- the blood vessels that supply blood to your heart -- is blocked. You have coronary artery disease, the No. 1 killer of U.S. adults.
So does this mean you're headed for bypass surgery? Maybe not, if your situation isn't an emergency.
You might have other options -- including less drastic procedures to reopen those arteries, medication alone, or even radical lifestyle change.
What's your best option?...
In a startling 2009 study published in the New England
Journal of Medicine, researchers found that African-Americans have a much
higher incidence of heart failure than other races, and it develops at younger
ages. Heart failure means that the heart isn't able to pump blood as well as it
Before age 50, African-Americans' heart failure rate is 20
times higher than that of whites, according to the study. Four risk factors are
the strongest predictors of heart failure:
high blood pressure (also called hypertension), chronic
kidney disease, being
overweight, and having low levels of HDL, the "good"
cholesterol. Three-fourths of African-Americans who develop heart failure
blood pressure by age 40.
African-Americans and Health Care
To prevent heart failure and other heart disease, it's crucial
to treat risk factors successfully, says Anne L. Taylor, MD, a professor of
medicine at New York Presbyterian Hospital and vice dean of academic affairs at
Columbia University's College of Physicians and Surgeons. But, compared with
their white peers, African-Americans often have less access to health care, she
says. Not only are they less likely to visit a doctor and get routine
screenings, but they're less likely to be referred to specialists.