Question: I am an African American woman in her 40s. I recently had a checkup and was told that I also should have a cardiac workup. Although I don’t eat as healthy as I should and high blood pressure and cholesterol run in my family, I have not begun menopause yet. Why do I need to be concerned about heart disease now?
Answer: Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women in the U.S. Many African American women are not aware of that fact or that African American women have an even higher risk of dying from heart disease — and at a younger age — than white women, according to the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
Each year, more African American women die from heart disease than breast cancer, lung cancer and strokes combined. But many do not realize the factors that increase their risk of developing heart disease or that they are at increased risk.
African American women face a high burden of negative social determinants of health. Although it may not apply to you specifically, it is valuable to help bring awareness of how issues such as chronic stress related to food insecurity, racism, the wealth gap and socioeconomically disenfranchised communities can prevent some people from living a healthy lifestyle and controlling many heart disease risk factors.
There is an increased awareness in trying to change the narrative on heart health and African American women. It is commendable that your health care professional proactively noted your risk, regardless of whether you are dealing with any of these specific health disparities.
Manage blood pressure
Statistics tell us that African Americans have the highest hypertension rates in the world. Untreated, high blood pressure increases the risk of heart attack, stroke and other serious health problems. Given your family history, it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly.
While national guidelines for women, in general, recommend screenings for cholesterol at age 45, if you have a known risk for coronary artery disease, screening earlier is appropriate. This can guide any additional tests that may be needed to check for specific areas of concern related to the heart’s function.
Reduce blood sugar