You probably know that heart disease and stroke are the first and fourth leading cause of death in the U.S. What you may not know is that certain segments of the population suffer from these diseases more than others.
If you're African-American, your risk of dying from heart disease is higher than the general population. Recent statistics from the American Heart Association show that the overall death rate from cardiovascular disease was 229.1 out of 100,000. For black males that number was an alarming 352.4 and for black women it was 248.6 per 100,000 people.
Dr. Robert Gillespie, a cardiologist with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group, says that high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are the most common conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. "High blood pressure in African-Americans is one of the highest in the world. It is not only more severe in blacks, but they develop it earlier in life than do others."
Dr. Gillespie says for a variety of reasons, blacks often have multiple risk factors, including a higher incidence of diabetes and obesity than the rest of the population.
"These are indeed scary statistics. But, awareness and lifestyle changes can do so much to reduce the risk of developing heart disease or of having a stroke," Dr. Gillespie says.
He recommends the following simple tips for health management:
Maintain a healthy weight:
- Eat a diet that is high in vegetables, fruits, grains and beans.
- Avoid red meat and eat small portions of fish and chicken.
- Drink at least 64 ounces of water daily.
If you have high blood pressure:
- Check it regularly.
- Notify your doctor of changes.
- Even if you don't have high blood pressure, assess it at least once a year.
If you have diabetes or prediabetes:
- Know your numbers.
- Know the warnings signs such as thirst and frequent urination.
- See your doctor if you suspect something is wrong.
For all of these risk factors, Dr. Gillespie says there is one other simple act of prevention: move. "Exercise is good for all of us. Children should exercise one hour daily. Adults should aim for at least 30 minutes a day — walking, dancing, swimming, anything that gets your heart rate up. We are made to move, and we feel so much better when we do."