How Heart Disease Affects Latinx People in the US

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Heart disease is the second-leading cause of death for Hispanic and Latino people in the U.S.

It’s important to know the symptoms and risk factors for heart disease, in addition to the steps you can take to prevent it.

What Is Heart Disease?

Cardiovascular disease (CVD), also known as heart and vascular disease, is an umbrella term for a group of conditions that affect the heart and vascular system. Common types of heart disease include coronary artery disease, heart failure, and aortic stenosis. Coronary artery disease, wherein plaque builds in the arteries and cuts blood supply to the heart, is a major cause of heart attack.

Heart disease rates among Hispanic and Latino people are high for both men and women, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). From 2015 to 2018, 52.3% of Hispanic men and 42.7% of Hispanic women ages 20 years and older had heart disease.

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Common Heart Disease Symptoms

One of the most common heart disease symptoms is chest pain, pressure, tightness, or discomfort. Other urgent symptoms of heart disease include:

  • Pain or discomfort in the arms or shoulders.
  • Jaw, neck, or back pain.
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness.
  • Nausea or vomiting.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Extreme, unexplained fatigue.
  • Fast, slow, irregular, or uneven heartbeat.
  • Excessive sweating.

Seek medical attention right away if you experience any of these symptoms. These are often the warning signs of a heart attack.

In many cases, you may not feel any heart disease symptoms until it’s too late. That’s why it’s important to see your doctor regularly for a complete medical evaluation and to assess your heart disease risk factors.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

In general, several factors can increase your risk of developing heart disease. These risk factors are also common in Hispanics and Latinos. They include:

  • High blood pressure
  • High cholesterol
  • Diabetes
  • Obesity
  • Smoking

Metabolic syndrome is another risk factor for heart disease. This cluster of conditions, including high blood pressure, high blood sugar, and elevated triglyceride levels, can cause heart disease and stroke. It is becoming more common in the United States, most sharply among Hispanics. According to the AHA, from 2011 to 2016, the cases of metabolic syndrome rose by 7.6% among Hispanics, from 32.9% to 40.5%.

Hispanics and Latinos also disproportionately face psychological stressors like discrimination and stress that put them at an increased risk for heart disease.

Preventing Heart Disease

If you’re Hispanic or Latino, you can modify many of your heart disease risk factors. That means you can change them through medical treatment or lifestyle changes.

It’s important to see your doctor regularly to check your blood pressure, cholesterol, and other risk factors for heart disease. If your blood pressure or cholesterol numbers are high, your doctor can help you lower them. Treatment can include medications, such as beta blockers, to control your blood pressure or statins to lower your cholesterol.

Getting heart disease risk factors under control can also prevent stroke.

New research by the American Heart Association shows that Hispanic and Latino adults with histories of stroke or transient ischemic attack (TIA) commonly had high blood pressure and cholesterol. About half had healthy blood sugar levels (high levels can increase your risk of diabetes, which can increase your risk of stroke).

Along with controlling heart disease risk factors, following a healthy lifestyle can also reduce your risk for heart disease. A heart-healthy lifestyle includes:

  • Eating a balanced diet.
  • Getting regular exercise.
  • Not smoking.
  • Limiting alcohol consumption.
  • Seeing your doctor regularly.

Visit the AHA’s Latinx at Heart program website for more information on how you can take charge of your heart health.

Heart Disease Facts. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Link.

Heart Attack Symptoms, Risk and Recovery. CDC. Link.

Major Cardiovascular Risk Factor Rates Are High in the U.S. Hispanic/Latino Population. Stroke Journal Report. March 4, 2021. American Stroke Association. Link.

Latinx at Heart. American Heart Association. Link.

What is Coronary Artery Disease. CDC. Link.

Heart Disease and Hispanic Americans. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health. Link.

How Do Heart Conditions Affect Hispanic and Latinos Mental Health Diagnosis? Feb. 2020. National Hispanic and Latino Mental Health Technology Transfer Center Network. Link.

About Heart and Vascular Institute

The UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute has long been a leader in cardiovascular care, with a rich history in clinical research and innovation. As one of the first heart transplant centers in the country and as the developer of one of the first heart-assist devices, UPMC has contributed to advancing the field of cardiovascular medicine. We strive to provide the most advanced, cutting-edge care for our patients, treating both common and complex conditions. We also offer services that seek to improve the health of our communities, including heart screenings, free clinics, and heart health education. Find an expert near you.