The risk factors of heart disease and how they hit close to home

By Dr. Mallory McClure of WellSpan Cardiology

Doctor listening to patient's heartbeat during home visit - wearing face mask

Doctor listening to patient's heartbeat during home visit - wearing face mask

This editorial is part of Transforming Health’s Expert Voices, where health care professionals discuss issues facing our community. All information is based on the expert’s experience and is not meant to replace professional medical advice or treatment plans. We encourage you to contact a qualified health care professional to discuss your individual health concerns.

February is Heart Month, a time to think about our heart health.

Dr. Mallory McClure of WellSpan Cardiology

It is also Black History Month, a time to celebrate the accomplishments, culture, and experiences of the Black community.

The juxtaposition of these two commemorations is a good opportunity to address the fact that Black Americans have the highest rate of death from heart disease in the country and to consider what steps can be taken to address that challenge.

The facts of Black heart disease

While heart disease is the leading cause of death for all Americans, heart disease develops earlier and deaths from heart disease are higher in Black Americans, due in part to risk factors such as high blood pressure and obesity, according to statistics from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association.

Here are some of the sobering statistics about Black Americans and heart disease:

  • Black Americans are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than whites, according to recent statistics from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
  • Black adults are 40%t more likely to have high blood pressure. In fact, the prevalence of high blood pressure in Black Americans is the highest in the world.
  • Among Black Americans age 20 and older, 71% of men and 81% of women are overweight or obese.

What can be done?

See a health care provider so you know your risk factors and can learn how to address them.

Your physician can help identify your individual challenges and find ways for you to address them. We can offer big and small steps you can take.

The steps can include medication and diet and exercise changes as well as ways to quit smoking, one of the most important things you can do to boost your heart health.

A Black doctor’s story

I know what it’s like to lose loved ones to heart disease. I also know what it’s like to battle heart disease risk factors myself.

My mother died unexpectedly at the age of 47 from a sudden lethal heart rhythm, an electrical problem in the heart likely caused by longstanding high blood pressure. She was just 15 years old. That loss is what inspired me to become a cardiologist, specializing in the treatment of the heart.

My father later died at the age of 66. His death was due to coronary disease, or blockages of the arteries. He had high blood pressure and other risk factors.

As for my own health, I have diabetes and high blood pressure. Diabetes is a very difficult disease to live with but there are lots of good, new drugs that are shown to protect you from stroke, heart attack, and death. Your doctor can help you with these treatments.

My simple advice: don’t put off getting help if you think you are at risk of heart disease.

This message is particularly important to Black patients, who often do not have significant resources or access to health care, and sometimes do not feel listened to by the medical community.

In my walk as a physician, I try to make all patients understand that I am always available, I am always fighting on their behalf, and I am going with them into whatever lies ahead. I tell my patients, ‘I’m Team You!’.

Look for yourself and learn about your own risk factors.