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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for African-American men and women, claiming the lives of more than 100,000 of them each year. Mainly due to ethnicity and heredity, certain heart disease risk factors are more prevalent in this population. But, Palmetto Health physicians say history can be altered and many of these risk factors can be controlled through heart-health education, lifestyle changes, and regular check-ups and medical care.
“Research has shown that African-Americans have a higher incidence of diabetes, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels and obesity,” says Palmetto Health Family Practice physician Dr. Patricia Wilson Witherspoon. “These risk factors, coupled with a sedentary lifestyle, a diet generally high in fat and high levels of stress, easily can lead to heart health complications.”
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cardiovascular disease accounted for 33.5 percent of deaths among black men and 40.6 percent among black women in the United States in the year 2000.
“African-American women face a greater threat of death from heart disease than women of other races,” Witherspoon says. “There is a crucial need for more heart-health education and greater awareness of heart disease among that population before they begin to suffer from the symptoms.”
Mildred Felder of Columbia knows she’s at risk. Both sides of her family have battled heart disease, as well as diabetes, obesity and high blood pressure. Many of her relatives have died from heart disease and she doesn’t take that lightly. She admits it’s not always easy, but says her health is important to her and the four daughters she raised as a single mom.
“I always knew heart disease ran in my family, but it wasn’t until I started caring for my mother that I really starting thinking it could happen to me,” Felder says.
A type 2 diabetic for more than 15 years, Felder showed minor signs of possible heart disease when she was hospitalized last year for difficulty breathing and chest pain.
“Today, I take my diabetes medication regularly and I try to stay as active as I possibly can,” Felder says. “I’ve taken a nutritional class to help me know what foods to eat and I’ve changed the way I eat by cooking without animal fats and staying away from fried food and sweets.”
Witherspoon encourages her patients to pay attention to their family history and use that as incentive to make changes. “While race does appear to be a factor in heart disease incidence, the overall risk can be reduced through not smoking, lowering blood pressure, reducing cholesterol, exercising regularly, losing excess weight, and controlling diabetes,” she says.
“Heart disease among African-Americans is reaching epidemic proportions, but it doesn’t have to be that way.”