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.
African-Americans and Health Care continued...
"African-Americans with heart failure are more likely to be
taken care of in a primary care practice," Taylor says, "even though the data
would suggest that the best care -- the care that decreases hospitalizations
and improves mortality rates -- happens in cardiologists' offices."
Further, some African-Americans "tend to see illness and disease as the main
reason for health care, so you don't go to the physician for preventive
medicine -- you go when you're sick," says Keith C. Ferdinand, MD, FACC, FAHA.
Ferdinand is a clinical professor in the cardiology division at Emory
University and chief science officer of the Association of Black Cardiologists.
"When are you sick? When you have symptoms:
chest pain, shortness of breath, swelling,
dizziness. By the time people manifest the signs and symptoms of
cardiovascular disease, they have already had that disease present for one,
two, or even three decades."
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
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
diabetes. I take the meds, I watch my sodium intake, and I work at keeping
weight within normal range." So far, she says, she's avoided heart