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Aug 01, 2012

African Americans at Greater Cardiovascular Risk Earlier in Life

Some individuals are at greater risk for heart disease than others.

As many know, heart disease is the number one killer of men and women, alike, in the United States. Despite this fact, some individuals are at greater risk for heart disease than others. For example, gender and age play a big role in our heart health, as men and women have different cardiovascular risk, and this risk increases with age. But one of the most surprising differences in cardiovascular risk exists between races. When comparing the impact of heart disease across races, African Americans have among the highest cardiovascular risk. In fact, they are nearly 1.5 times more likely to have high blood pressure and about 30% more likely to die from heart disease than white adults.

And according to a recent study published in the American College of Cardiology’s medical journal, Circulation, African Americans may also experience heart disease earlier in life than whites. In this study, researchers analyzed data from three large studies following thousands of individuals for many years, tracking their heart health. They found that African Americans were significantly more likely to have heart disease than whites, especially at an earlier age. However, this difference only existed among younger patients.

It is possible that these differences may be due to risk factors, like high blood pressure. Since African Americans are much more likely to have high blood pressure than whites, this puts them at increased risk for heart disease, heart attack and stroke earlier in life. But whatever the cause, studies like this are extremely important to better understanding racial gaps in cardiovascular risk. The more we learn about racial disparities in heart health, the better equipped we are to improve the health of high-risk individuals. And in this case, addressing heart health earlier in life in African Americans may be the key to helping close these health gaps in coming years. 

Questions for You to Consider

  • Why are African Americans at greater risk for heart disease than whites?

  • Although why African Americans have such high cardiovascular risk is not fully understood, it is likely due to a combination of genetics and other factors. African Americans may be naturally predisposed to conditions, such as high blood pressure, which put them at increased cardiovascular risk. Other factors, such as physical activity and diet, also likely play some role in these disparities.
  • How can African Americans reduce cardiovascular risk?

  • African Americans should take steps recommended to all individuals to improve heart health, such as exercising, eating healthy and maintaining a healthy weight. They should also pay particular attention to blood pressure, given their increased risk for hypertension.