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Black Women and Heart Disease: The Silent Killer

I remember having lunch with a friend and she asked me “If I knew my cholesterol level”, I responded that “I didn’t know and in fact the only thing I knew about Cholesterol was that Cheerios can help to lower it”. She looked shocked and suggested that I go get it checked, “because if it’s too high it can lead to heart disease”, which is the number one killer in America! I didn’t think that I had anything to worry about, besides I’m a 32 year old black female, I couldn’t possibly be at risk for heart disease, Right?

I decided to research the topic and I was astonished to learn that 49% of African American women over the age of 20 have heart disease and that one out of every three women die from it. That’s more than breast cancer! Growing up in the inner city of Cleveland I had never been aware of the risks and dangers of heart disease, especially for African American women. Although, I get yearly physicals my doctor had never discussed this subject with me. The only time I heard anything about heart disease was in T.V. commercials, and none of these commercials ever made me feel like I was at risk because they never included a young black woman.

Heart Disease also known as cardiovascular diseases are heart conditions that include diseased vessels, structural problems and blood clots. The most common types of heart disease are stroke, high blood pressure and coronary artery disease. Heart Disease is the number one killer of men and women in America, killing over 600,000 people in the U.S each year. It is known as the “silent killer” because there aren’t any noticeable symptoms.

While black women have the highest rate of dying from heart disease they are the least aware of their risks and dangers of heart disease. The American Heart Association says that only 36% of African American women know that heart disease is their greatest health risk and only 52% are aware of the signs and symptoms of a heart attack. A survey conducted in 2010 from the U.S census Bureau shows that black women have the highest rate of dying early from heart disease and stroke at 78% compared to white women at 46%.

As an African American woman these statistics concern me. Why are we more likely to die from heart disease than any other group and why aren’t we aware of this? Researchers say that black women have the highest rates of death from heart disease because we are most likely to suffer from obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol. All of these factors increase the risk of heart disease. Also, a lack of awareness and health disparities within the African American community contribute to the high rates of death of African American women due to heart disease. So here’s what you should know about heart disease:

  1. It’s the leading cause of death in women in the United States.

  2. Major risk factors are high blood pressure, high cholesterol and smoking.

  3. Life style changes can help reduce your risk such as increasing physical activity, eating a healthy diet and reducing alcohol intake.

  4. Having diabetes and high blood pressure increases your risk.

  5. Two thirds of the women who died from heart disease did not have any previous symptoms.

If you were like me you probably don’t know what your cholesterol level is how and it impacts your health. It’s very important that you talk to your physician about your numbers and what they mean. From my experience they don’t volunteer this information to you. It’s important for you to know the signs of a stroke and heart attack and to be aggressive about your health. Understand that heart disease is a serious issue, but in most cases it is preventable and manageable by your everyday choices.

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