• Cardiovascular

    Heart disease in African American women: The health disparities and how to overcome them

Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death in women in the U.S. And African American women have an even higher risk of dying from heart disease, at a younger age, that white women, according to the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

Dr. LaPrincess Brewer, a Mayo Clinic cardiologist, says this serious issue is amplified by the fact that many African American women are not aware of their risk.

"Each year, more African American women die from heart disease than breast cancer, lung cancer and strokes combined, which makes heart disease the No. 1 killer of African American women in our nation. However, studies have also revealed that less than half of African American women are aware that heart disease is their No. 1 cause of death," says Dr. Brewer.

Much of Dr. Brewer's work as a physician scientist focuses on fighting health disparities in the African American population. She says nearly 1 in every 2 Black women over age 20 in the U.S. have some form of heart disease, such as:

  • Clogged arteries in the heart, arms or legs
  • Stroke
  • Heart Failure
  • Abnormal heart rhythms

Some of the risk factors that increase African American women's risk of developing heart disease include hypertension, overweight and obesity, and diabetes.

Watch: Dr. LaPrincess Brewer discusses heart disease in African American women.

Journalists: Broadcast-quality sound bites are available in the downloads at the end of the post. Please courtesy: "LaPrincess Brewer, M.D./Cardiovascular Disease/Mayo Clinic."

"African Americans have the highest hypertension rates in the world. African American women are also the least physically active group of women in the United States. Now's the time that we focus on changing the narrative on heart health and African American women," says Dr. Brewer.

Dr. Brewer says the root causes of cardiovascular health disparities are complex and significantly increased by social determinants, or drivers of health.

"Unfortunately, African American women are faced with an overwhelmingly high burden of negative social determinants of health, and these include chronic stress related to factors like food insecurity, systemic racism, the wealth gap and socioeconomically disenfranchised communities. And many of these issues have unfortunately been amplified with the COVID-19 pandemic. These challenges really prevent African American women from following a healthy lifestyle and controlling many of the heart disease risk factors," says Dr. Brewer.

In order to address the root causes of cardiovascular health disparities, Dr. Brewer says it's going to take interventions to achieve health equity at the individual, community and societal levels. Campaigns, such as National Wear Red Day and Go Red For Women, help shed light on these issues and develop solutions. Dr. Brewer leads a team that developed an individual- and community-level intervention called FAITH.

"FAITH stands for Fostering African American Improvement in Total Health. We aim to support African American women who are part of Black churches in improving their heart health. Another way that we can address many of these disparities, is to increase diversity in clinical trials and also to develop policy-level interventions to address many of those social determinants of health," says Dr. Brewer.

Dr. Brewer recommends that all women keep heart health as a priority and follow the American Heart Association's "Life's Simple 7" lifestyle changes to help achieve ideal heart health: 

  • Manage blood pressure
  • Control cholesterol
  • Reduce blood sugar
  • Get active
  • Eat better
  • Lose weight
  • Stop smoking.

"I truly, truly recommend that African American women be diligent to protect their own hearts and also to take time for themselves. Self-care really does matter," says Dr. Brewer.

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