Heart and Vascular Health Heart Disease and African Americans: What’s The Connection? By Heart and Vascular Institute, September 30, 2016 Heart disease is the No. 1 cause of death for all Americans. But did you know African Americans are more likely to suffer heart failure and even more likely for heart failure to happen earlier in their lives? Heart Disease Risk Factors in African Americans There are many risk factors for heart disease, but the most common predictors of heart disease in African Americans are: High blood pressure Obesity Chronic kidney disease Low levels of “good” cholesterol also known as HDL High blood pressure significantly increases your chances of developing heart disease and the prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans is extremely high. Some research shows African Americans have a gene that make them more sensitive to salt and in turn increases their chances of develop high blood pressure. Additionally, African Americans are also more likely to be overweight and have higher rates of diabetes. Not only are African Americans with these risk factors more likely to develop heart disease, they’re also prone to develop these conditions much earlier than Caucasians. In fact, before the age of 50, African Americans have a 20 times higher likelihood of developing heart disease as compared to Caucasians. Seeking Medical Care: Heart Disease Treatment Options Despite their risk of developing heart disease and related conditions, research shows African Americans are less likely to receive the screenings and routine check-ups needed to diagnose heart disease early. All too often, many patients do not seek treatment until they’re showing symptoms of a heart problem. And when you’re experiencing chest pain and shortness of breath, heart disease has likely affected you for many years. Overall, African Americans specifically are less likely than other patients to use their primary care physicians (PCP) for preventative screenings. Making the problem worse: When African American patients seek treatment from their PCP they are less likely to be referred to a specialist. Preventing Heart Disease in African Americans The first step in preventing heart disease is simple: Schedule regular check-ups with your PCP. Adults should visit their doctor at least once each year. At your annual visit, your PCP can recommend screenings based on your age, health, and family history of heart disease. Looking for more ways to boost your heart health? Read our guide to heart-healthy dieting and heart health and exercise. The importance of heart screenings Cardiovascular screenings are key to detecting risk factors for heart disease — and may even serve as a wake-up call for patients to adopt a healthier lifestyle. Heart screenings should begin at age 20 and the frequency of visits and follow-up care depend on your unique risk level. Heart screenings usually involve testing factors including: Weight and Body Mass Index Waist circumference Blood pressure Cholesterol Blood Glucose Learn more about free heart screenings in the Pittsburgh region. For more, visit the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute website or call 1-855-UPMC-HVI (876-2484).