Boston Women’s Journal - April/May 2003

Women and Cardiovascular Health

Attention all Women, and Particularly Women of Color

In the provision of healthcare in the United States all things are not equal. There is a great disparity between the quality of care and information disseminated to Women, and particularly Women of Color, regarding cardiovascular disease, and the results of the lack of information is devastating. This is because traditionally heart related disease was thought to be a male problem. But for whatever reason, and there are many thoughts on the subject, ranging from changing lifestyle to changing food consumption patterns, heart disease among women is on the rise dramatically. Self advocacy is the key, and information is the tool to create that key.

Recently I did a show on Framingham public access television, Channel 9, called “Journey to Justice” and the host asked me to choose a topic that would be of wide interest and value to the African-American women in her audience. After doing some research and looking at the data I chose to speak about the topic of the increased risk of Heart Disease and Stroke among African-American women.

One in 28 women in the United States die of breast cancer, women in general are ten times more likely to die of cardiovascular disease, and African-American women are at an even greater risk. Although this article is aimed at Women of Color, the information is valuable to all women, as heart disease among women is a silent killer often overlooked by the medical community in general. We think of the men as the ones having the cardiac disease, but that is no longer the case. Over the past three decades heart disease has been the fastest growing killer of women. I thought the information bore repeating here as the statistics are grim and the things that can be done are simple and effective.

Did you know that: * Heart disease and stroke are the leading cause of death for African-American women in the United States. * According to the Centers for disease control over 100,000 Americans die from cardiovascular disease each year. * Compared to Caucasian women, young African-American women are 2-3 times more likely to have a stroke under the age of 55, and it is twice as likely for that stroke to be fatal. * High blood pressure among African-Americans (men and women) is the highest of any population in the world. In fact 37% of African-American men and women over the age of 20 have high blood pressure. * 46% of African-American women have a blood cholesterol reading of over 200. * 77% of African-American women are overweight and 55% are considered sedentary by the American Heart Association. The risk factors are basically the same for all women so read on regardless of your ethnicity: * Smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol. * Sedentary lifestyle, obesity, and diabetes. * Adding to these risks are the inadequacy of screening under the age of 55.

What we all should do is pay attention and become our own advocates. Go to the doctor and ask for screening for all of the risk factors if you are over 25, especially if you ar a woman of color. Eat properly, make sure that foods are healthy and varied, and reduce the quantities of fatty and fried foods. Don’t smoke. Get regular exercise. If you have diabetes, make sure that you are monitoring your blood sugar carefully and have been evaluated by a qualified endocrinologist.

Find out about the medicines that are available, both in the traditional sphere and through alternative means. New developments are occurring in this area all the time, and safer medicines with fewer side effects are being discovered. Do your homework and speak with doctors, alternative care practitioners, and nutritionists, and assess your risk. Family history is a good place to start, but none of us is immune to risk. Learn the warning signs, and you will greatly increase your chances of living a long and happy life.