What African-Americans should know about their hearts

What African-Americans should know about their hearts

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for all Americans, but the threat of heart-related complications is most severe for African-Americans.

Dr. Ted Wright

Dr. Ted Wright

Data from the American Heart Association shows that African-Americans are at a higher risk for heart disease than white Americans and the prevalence of high blood pressure in black Americans is among the highest in the world. Because African-Americans are disproportionately affected by heart disease, it’s important to understand why that’s the case and what can be done to promote a healthy heart.

To celebrate Black History Month and American Heart Month, we spoke with Dr. Ted Wright, a heart surgeon at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute who specializes in heart rhythm disorders, to find out more about how heart disease impacts African-American adults and what you can do to improve your heart health.

Why are African-Americans more susceptible to heart disease than other groups?

Wright: The primary reason is that hypertension, or high blood pressure, is much higher in the African-American community. About two out of every five African-American adults have high blood pressure, and fewer than half have it under control.

What other factors contribute to higher rates of heart disease in the African-American community?

Wright: Other factors include obesity and diabetes. The prevalence of obesity and inactivity tend to be a bit higher in the African-American community, and there’s some research indicating that African-Americans metabolize salt in a way that may contribute to high blood pressure.

What are preventive measures a person can take to improve their heart health?

Wright: Lifestyle changes can have a huge impact on getting your risk factors under control. Here’s what I recommend: Eat a healthy diet, exercise regularly, don’t smoke or quit smoking right away, limit your alcohol consumption, and know your family history. If others in your family have had heart disease, you might be more at risk for it yourself.

What else should people be doing to manage their risk factors?

Wright: In addition to lifestyle changes, be informed and know your numbers: blood sugar, blood pressure, cholesterol levels and weight. Work with your health care provider to manage these numbers through lifestyle changes and medications.

Dr. Wright is a heart surgeon at the UK Gill Heart & Vascular Institute. He is UK’s leading expert in AFib treatment and is the only doctor in the region performing the Mini-MAZE procedure.

Next steps:

  • Want to improve your heart health? Understanding just a few numbers, like your blood pressure and cholesterol, can tell you a whole lot about your overall health.
  • Twin brothers Jon Wes and Gardner Adams were diagnosed with a rare heart rhythm disorder called Brugada syndrome. After being treated successfully at Gill, the brothers are helping researchers at UK understand inherited heart disorders.