Heart failure can touch anyone. But for Black and Hispanic people, this condition tends to be more serious and harder to manage.
Black and Hispanic people are more likely than white people to need treatment in a hospital. And Black people are 30% more likely than white people to die from heart failure.
Some of these problems are because people of color face more challenges getting an accurate and timely diagnosis and getting the most effective treatments. But you can take steps to make sure you get the best possible care.
Advocate for Yourself
Managing heart failure starts with advocating for yourself. During your treatment you'll see a cardiologist, primary care doctor, nurses, and other specialists. But you are an important member of your care team, too.
To advocate for yourself, you first need to understand the disease. That way you will know what treatments are available and may have a better idea of which ones might be right for you.
Many good heart failure treatments exist, but not everyone has the same access to them. Sometimes it’s because doctors don’t offer them to everyone equally. People of color are less likely than white people to get advanced heart failure treatments like a ventricular assist device (VAD) or heart transplant. It's easier to ask for the treatments you need when you know which ones are available.
Learn about heart failure and its treatments from trusted sources like your doctor, the American Heart Association, and the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
Advocacy also means standing up for yourself. If you feel like your care team doesn't listen to you or dismisses you, look for another specialist for a second opinion.
Find a Doctor You Trust
Good communication with your doctor is an important part of managing heart failure. That requires trust. If you've had bad experiences with doctors in the past, it might be hard for you to trust your cardiologist now.
It's important to see a doctor who knows how to treat heart failure in people of color. Some heart failure medicines work differently or cause different side effects in Black people than they do in white people. It’s within your rights to ask your doctor how much experience they have treating people of color. That’s how you advocate for yourself.
Meet with a few doctors. Choose the one you feel most comfortable with and one who listens well. Your doctor should recommend treatments that fit your lifestyle and needs. They should also include you in any decisions they make.
Once you find someone you trust, be open and honest with them. Answer questions about your lifestyle honestly, even if you don’t always keep the healthiest habits. Your doctor needs a full picture of your health to help you. Let them know if you have any new symptoms or if your treatment isn't working.
Take an Active Role in Your Treatment
You'll have better odds of treatment success if you take good care of yourself. Take the medications your doctor prescribes. Limit the amount of salt and fluid in your diet. Stay active by walking or taking part in a cardiac rehabilitation program. Get a handle on your stress. And avoid tobacco smoke and alcohol.
Go to every follow-up visit you have scheduled with your doctor. You'll need regular exams and tests to monitor your heart health. During these visits, your medical team can make sure your treatments are doing what they should to keep your heart failure under control.
Stay on Top of Your Meds
Heart failure medicines work together to lower blood pressure, improve blood flow, and help your heart work better. These medicines can keep you out of the hospital and help you live longer.
But in order for these medications to work, you have to take them. If you have side effects, don't just stop taking the medicine. Talk to your doctor about changing the drug or dose. If you can't remember to take your medications, use a pillbox, smartphone app, or calendar to remind you. Together, you and your doctor can find solutions to help you stick with your treatment with as few side effects as possible.
Monitor Your Symptoms
Tiredness, leg swelling, and shortness of breath are signs that your heart can't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet your body's needs. Learn the signs that your heart failure is getting worse so you can report any changes to your doctor.
Keep a diary of your symptoms, blood pressure, and weight. Your doctor can use these symptoms as a guide to adjust your treatment plan.
Ask for Financial Help
Heart failure treatment is expensive. Even with good health insurance, you could spend thousands of dollars of your own money each year.
If you can't afford your medications, ask your doctor or pharmacist about patient assistance programs to help you cover the cost. You can also find financial help from nonprofit organizations like the Partnership for Prescription Assistance or NeedyMeds.
Living with a serious chronic disease can be very stressful. People with heart failure who have good support live longer and better than those who don't have support.
Ask friends, family, and neighbors for help when you need it. You might have someone drive you to medical appointments or do the grocery shopping when you feel tired. If you feel overwhelmed, ask your doctor to recommend a therapist or counselor who can offer advice.
Photo Credit: JGI / Tom Grill / Getty Images
American Heart Association: "Communicating with Your Advanced Heart Failure Health Care Team," "Medication Assistance Programs," "Your Heart Failure Health Care Team."
Circulation: "Self-Care Guide for the Heart Failure Patient."
Circulation: Heart Failure: "Racial Inequities in Access to Ventricular Assist Device and Transplant Persist After Consideration for Preferences for Care: A Report from the REVIVAL Study."
Cleveland Clinic: "How Race and Ethnicity Impact Heart Disease."
European Heart Journal: "Heart failure drug treatment: the fantastic four."
JAMA Network Open: "Association of Racial/Ethnic and Gender Concordance Between Patients and Physicians With Patient Experience Ratings."
Journal of Patient Experience: "Perceived Social Support and its Effects on Treatment Compliance and Quality of Life in Cardiac Patients."
Journal of the American Heart Association: "Out-of-Pocket Annual Health Expenditures and Financial Toxicity from Healthcare Costs in Patients with Heart Failure in the United States," "Racial Differences in Clinical Treatment and Self-Care Behaviors of Adults with Chronic Heart Failure."
Mayo Clinic: "Heart failure."
National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute: "Heart Failure Treatment."
Pew Research: "Black Americans' views about health disparities, experiences with health care."
Renaissance School of Medicine: "Cardiovascular Disease in Hispanics/Latinos in the United States and on Long Island."
Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine: "Feeling Dismissed and Ignored by Your Doctor? Do This."
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health: "Heart Disease and African Americans."