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Heart Disease Health Center

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Why Are African-Americans at Greater Risk for Heart Disease?

African-Americans are at higher risk for heart disease, yet they're less likely to get the care they need.

Treating Heart Disease Risk Factors

Drummond's father, who had health insurance but not a physician he would go to on a regular basis, provides a cautionary tale about why African-Americans must maintain a consistent relationship with a good doctor who knows their medical history and provides preventive care, screenings, and referrals to specialists.

"He had a leaking valve, and it didn't get replaced as soon as it should have," Drummond says. "The doctor told us it should have been replaced six or seven years earlier. When he started having swelling in his legs and shortness of breath, that's when he went to the hospital." Doctors diagnosed the leaking valve and performed surgery, but "it was too late for him," Drummond says. He died a few weeks after his surgery.

Besides a strong family history, Drummond has other risk factors for heart disease. She was diagnosed with high blood pressure at age 28 and with type 2 diabetes about five years ago. After years of unsuccessfully trying to control her blood pressure with diet and exercise, she now takes medications.

She's under a doctor's regular care, and she stays fit and eats healthy foods. "I work hard. I go to the gym to help control my hypertension and diabetes. I take the meds, I watch my sodium intake, and I work at keeping my weight within normal range." So far, she says, she's avoided heart failure.

What to Ask Your Doctor About Heart Disease

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart failure. Work with your doctor to keep it in check by asking the following questions:

  • What is my risk for developing high blood pressure?
  • How can I limit my risk and help prevent it?
  • What are the symptoms?
  • What does my blood pressure reading actually mean?
  • Am I taking any medicines that make me more susceptible?
  • What medications are available if I have high blood pressure?
  • What are the benefits and side effects?
Reviewed on February 15, 2010

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