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Healthcare disparities and heart disease

Every minute someone dies from a coronary event in the United States.

You might think heart disease doesn’t affect you personally, but you probably know someone who has suffered a heart attack or has heart disease. Racial and ethnic minority groups have higher rates of cardiovascular disease than non-minorities. Learn the facts, be aware, and join the cause to help reduce the number of deaths in the United States.

Quick facts about heart disease –

  • In the United States, coronary artery disease is the most common form of heart disease. It occurs when the arteries leading to the heart become hardened and narrow due to build up of plaque on the inside of the arteries. This can cause a heart attack, pain, heart failure, or an irregular heartbeat.
  • Heart disease is the number one cause of death in the U.S. A study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association’s Circulation by the American Heart Association in conjunction with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Institutes of Health, and other governmental agencies revealed that an estimated 789,000 Americans had a new coronary attack in 2009 and 470,000 will have a reoccurring attack.

    Nonmodifiable Risk Factors -

    • Age
    • Gender
    • Family History
    • Race

    Modifiable Risk Factors -

    • Diet
    • Exercise
    • High blood pressure
    • Cholesterol
    • Smoking
  • Know your risk factors. A risk factor is defined as something that increases the likelihood of an event or disease from occurring. The more risk factors you have, the greater your chance of developing cardiovascular disease. Certain risk factors that cannot be modified or changed are called nonmodifiable risk factors (see side bar). Other risk factors can be controlled or changed, called modifiable risk factors.
  • The good news is that heart disease is preventable. The goal is to focus on those factors you can change by adopting a healthy lifestyle. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends the following:
  • Eat a heart healthy diet
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Exercise regularly
  • Do not smoke or if you do, quit smoking
  • Limit alcohol

What is a healthcare disparity?

Did you know that depending on where you live, your socioeconomic status, race, or gender, the quality of medical treatment you receive can vary dramatically?

  • Coronary heart disease is the single leading cause of death for American women. Since 1984, the number of cardiovascular disease deaths for females has exceeded those for males. African-American women are 35% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic White women.
  • Deaths vary by ethnicity. According to The Office of Minority Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African-American men are 30% more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic White males. Mexican-Americans, who make up the largest share of the U.S. Hispanic population, suffer in greater percentages than Caucasians from overweight and obesity, two of the leading risk factors for heart disease.
  • Racial and ethnic disparities persist even when insurance status, income, age, and severity of conditions are controlled according to a landmark study conducted in 2002 by the Institute of Medicine entitled, “Unequal Treatment: Confronting Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Healthcare.”

Initiatives to address healthcare disparities and heart disease

In June 2008, The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation announced a $300 million community-focused program, Aligning Forces for Quality, to dramatically improve the quality of U.S. health care, reduce racial and ethnic disparities, and provide models for national reform.

Lynne Holden, M.D., President of Mentoring in Medicine, Associate Professor of Clinical Emergency Medicine at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, and recipient of the 2009 Robert Wood Johnson Foundation Community Health Leader Award, works tirelessly to educate and raise awareness about heart disease. Dr. Holden hopes to reduce health care disparities by improving health literacy in minority communities. In addition to the various hats she wears, she and her Mentoring in Medicine students are also actively involved in the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Campaign. Dr. Holden says, “I ‘go red for’ future health care professionals who will help prevent and treat heart disease.”