African American women are especially affected by heart disease. They have a higher mortality or death rate than white women and black men under the age of 55 years. The mortality rate from coronary heart disease is 69% higher than for white women. In addition, the first heart attack occurs at an earlier age in black women and is more likely to be fatal than is the case in white women. And pre-menopausal women who have hypertension, which is more common in black women, have 10 times the heart attack risk of those without high blood pressure.
Risk Factors in African-American Women
Black women have the highest rates of what are called risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the country, when they are compared to men and women of their own race as well as other races. When you have a risk factor, which means that you are unusually likely to develop CVD, as opposed to people who have none. In addition, the more risk factors you have, the greater are the chance that you will have an adverse event involving the cardiovascular system such as a heart attack or a stroke. It has been well documented that African American women have the highest rates of the following risk factors:
* Smoking: 26% of black women smoke
* High blood pressure: about one-third of black women have hypertension
* Obesity: two-thirds of black women are overweight or obese
* Physical inactivity: the majority of black women do not exercise regularly
In addition, diabetes, which causes so many heart attacks that it is now considered a cardiovascular disease and a CVD risk equivalent, is found in a very high percentage of African American women.
Warning Signs for Black Women
Pain in the chest is a classic symptom of an impending heart attack, and it means that your heart is literally crying out for help. It is called angina. Black women do not experience it as commonly as white women, for reasons that are not entirely clear. It may also occur in locations other than the chest such as the back, arm, and even the jaw. It may or may not be associated with activity. If it does occur, it may be misinterpreted as indigestion or an upset stomach. The best advice is, don’t take a chance—go to the nearest hospital right away to be checked to make sure you are not having a heart attack. This is crucial, because half of the people who have a heart attack die on the first occasion. You may not get a second chance if you are having a heart attack and don’t get immediate medical attention. So use 911—that’s what it’s there for. Better safe than sorry. Shortness of breath, a fast heartbeat, excessive sweating, unexplained weakness and tiredness, nausea and dizziness may also occur.
High blood pressure may not cause any signs or symptoms warning you of its presence until something happens, such as a stroke or heart attack. For this reason, it is called the “silent killer”. You really do need to get that blood pressure checked by a doctor, and more than one time. When hypertension does cause symptoms, they may include headache, dizziness, rapid heartbeat (palpitations), or blurred vision. But don’t wait until these symptoms occur, because by then, dangerous complications stemming from damage to major organs may already be in progress.
Stroke is caused when the blood supply to the brain is interrupted, and it can also be caused by blood clots in these arteries or whenever a brain artery is ruptured or bursts, causing cerebral hemorrhage, which commonly occurs in black people who have hypertension. Strokes generally occur suddenly, often without warning. Some of the warning signs may be sudden numbness or weakness of the limbs or face, especially on one side, sudden confusion, difficulty speaking or walking, difficulty focusing the eyes, and headache. If any of these things happen, you should get to the hospital right away, because brain damage progresses within minutes and is usually permanent and irreversible unless treated very quickly. Call 911 immediately. You don’t even have time to get dressed.
It is not possible in this small space to give more than a comprehensive overview of the problems, but hopefully, you have gotten the most important message of all, which is to get yourself checked out by a doctor and to heed the advice given.
From What Every Woman Should Know About Heart Disease from Blackdoctor.org
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