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South Asians Face Increased Risk for Heart Disease

CardioSmart News

South Asians develop heart disease at a younger age and have higher rates of heart disease than whites, based on a scientific statement recently released by the American Heart Association.

Published in Circulation, this statement addresses heart disease in South Asians living in the United States. South Asians—most commonly, individuals from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, the Maldives, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka—make up one-quarter of the world’s population. They’re also one of the fastest-growing ethnic groups in the United States.

While heart disease is the leading killer of all Americans, data suggests that South Asians face especially high rates of heart disease in the United States. With more than 3.4 million South Asians currently living in the U.S., addressing their increased risk is a must.

According to authors, South Asians face a higher burden of heart disease compared to whites. They also have higher rates of hospitalization and are more likely to die from heart disease than other minority groups.

This is likely due to the fact that South Asians tend to have more risk factors for heart disease than whites.

Studies suggest that South Asians have at least twice the risk for type 2 diabetes than whites. They’re also more likely to have metabolic syndrome, which is a clustering of risk factors that increases risk for heart disease.

Metabolic syndrome includes elevated blood pressure and blood sugar, excess body fat around the waist, and abnormal cholesterol or triglyceride levels. Together, these conditions can increase risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes.

South Asians also have high rates of high blood pressure, high cholesterol and inflammation, all of which spell trouble for heart health.

According to authors, it’s possible that genetics may be somewhat to blame for increased risk. For example, South Asians may be predisposed to conditions like diabetes and high cholesterol, which in turn increases risk for heart disease.

However, it’s likely that diet and lifestyle are also to blame for this disparity. For example, authors note that the traditional South Asian diet is heavy in in carbohydrates and saturated fats, which are not ideal for heart health. Studies also suggest that many South Asians in the United States have adopted a more American diet, which includes things like fried food, pizza and sugar-sweetened beverages.

Combined with lower levels of physical activity, this less-than-ideal lifestyle can lead to weight gain and increase risk for heart disease.

As a result, authors stress the importance of early screening, treatment and prevention in South Asians. Not only should South Asians adopt a healthier lifestyle to promote better health, they should be screened regularly for risk factors like high blood pressure and diabetes. By catching risk factors earlier, individuals can take steps to address them and reduce risk for potentially life-threatening heart events.

Learn about CardioSmart's editorial process. Information provided for educational purposes only. Please talk to your health care professional about your specific needs.