Getting to the Heart of the Matter: A Look at African Americans Battle with Heart Disease

Jo-Carolyn Goode | 2/16/2018, 7:43 a.m.
She felt like she has lost all control is how a then 47-year-old Wanda Walton described her bout with heart ...

An estimated 59 percent of all African-American men and 56 percent African American women are now classified as those with high blood pressure under the new guidelines. Many are being diagnosed at younger ages than previous years according to doctors. “Hypertension occurs at a younger age for African-Americans than for whites. By the time the 140 over 90 is achieved, their prolonged exposure to elevated blood pressure has a potential for worse outcome,” said Kenneth A. Jamerson, M.D., a guideline author, cardiologist, and professor of cardiovascular medicine with the University of Michigan Health System.

Preventing heart disease

Prevention is the key to combating heart disease. “It really starts on the prevention end, to maintain a healthy lifestyle so risk factors don’t develop,” Carnethon said. “However, once they do, it’s about taking ownership of your health, understanding the options and managing your risk.” Major risk factors for heart disease are high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Other factors include lifestyle choices, access to healthy foods and exercise, and prioritizing sleep. According to the Jackson Heart Study, which is the largest research project looking at the causes of cardiovascular disease in African-Americans, indicates that African Americans tend to have a higher blood pressure reading at night compared to other races and ethnic groups, and their blood pressure doesn’t drop as it should during sleep.

African Americans can be their own health advocates by checking their blood pressure regularly. If there are changes you can quickly notify your doctor so both of you can work towards controlling it before it gets to the point of you having a stroke or heart attack.

Addressing the obesity problem takes hard work. Eliminating sugary drinks and desserts coupled with selecting wise snacks is half the battle. Winston Gandy, M.D., a cardiologist and chief medical marketing officer with the Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta and a volunteer with the American Heart Association, also suggests limiting red meat in favor of lean meats such as chicken or fish and watching portions on carbohydrate-heavy foods, such as pasta and rice. Look for whole grain options instead. Make mixed vegetables the main part of your meal.

Diabetes is treatable and preventable if caught early but most don’t seek treatment when the first signs start to appear. Those who delay treatment may suffer from blindness, amputations, or renal failure. Exercise regularly to strengthen the cardiovascular system and burn calories.


Because of these disturbing numbers, doctors are treating high blood pressure more aggressively to get it under control. Data indicates this method works better than previous ways where doctors would prescribe one drug and up the dose or add other medications to treat high blood pressure. New blood pressure guidelines also indicate which prescribed drugs work better for African Americans. Thiazide-type diuretics and/or calcium channel blockers are best for treating African Americans suffering heart disease. Treating heart disease with prescribed medications is just one way. Others include making lifestyle changes, using devices or surgical procedures.

When you get to the heart of the matter of heart disease you are the most important piece in solving the problem. Take control of your health by knowing and managing your risks, understanding your options, and utilizing preventative measures to reduce your chance of having a heart attack, stroke or suffering some other heart disease.

The American Heart Association provided resources used in this article.