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Why Heart Disease is Ignored in the Black Community

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Editor's Note

Any medical information included is based on a personal experience. For questions or concerns regarding health, please consult a doctor or medical professional.

According to the CDC, African Americans aged 18-49  are twice as likely to die from heart diseaseAccording to the American Heart Association, heart disease and stroke are the number one killer of women, and stroke disproportionately impacts African American Women. 

49% of African American Women aged 20 and older have heart disease but only one in five believes she is at risk . Why are these numbers important? Why does this matter? We have a real problem in the African American community that is not being addressed, and that problem is heart disease. 

Heart disease disproportionately impacts people of color, yet our rates of being diagnosed and adequately treated are lower than our peers in other races. The sad reality is that many are living with this and facing mortality at younger ages because of being misdiagnosed or under treated, thus causing more lifelong issues and severe cases of heart disease

Why aren’t we diagnosed and why aren’t we treated? 

1. Medical bias

2. Access to care

3. Lack of resources

4. Ignoring signs and symptoms/signs and symptoms presenting differently 

There are often many more reasons that are unveiled as time goes on, but these are the most common. 

Medical bias– believe it or not, this is a thing. 

Doctors are still making judgements based on a patient’s race, appearance or socioeconomic status. Unfortunately that may lead to a delay in care or being treated differently or even having a delay in their care. Many doctors are still being taught in medical school that Black and Brown patients don’t feel pain or don’t have certain signs and symptoms, and tthey take that bias with them into the exam room and thus it reflects in diagnosis. Due to this, unfortunately the patient suffers. 

Many patients are blown off or don’t have life saving tests run because doctors often do not believe them. The result? Early mortality from conditions that are easy to manage. This has to stop. We need to reverse what is being taught to new doctors and get them to understand that all patents need to have an equal chance at care and treatment.

Many African American and other minority patients do not have adequate access to quality healthcare. Therefore, many of their medications may not be purchased or picked up and taken, checks can go unattended, symptoms overlooked and therefore get out of hand, amongst other things. We need to make healthcare affordable and accessible to all. That way we can reduce the mortality of a very manageable condition. Until we can make healthcare affordable and accessible, we will continue to see high mortality rates in minorities.

Many African Americans do not have the resources necessary to manage their conditions. That could be financial resources, healthcare, familial support or anything else necessary in order to effectively and efficiently manage their conditions. It is essential to have support when managing any chronic illness, especially one that is as evolving as heart disease. Since heart disease is more prevalent in low income communities, it is hard for those who live in those areas sometimes to afford the necessary medications to maintain their conditions, as well as the co-pays to see their doctors that manage their conditions. Furthermore, they may not have the grocery stores or access to foods that are heart healthy that lead to reduced blood pressure readings and cholesterol levels, as well as help to reduce weight and other factors that contribute to heart disease such as high blood sugar and A1C levels as seen in Diabetes. This is why we need to pump additional resources into communities to support health living and eating.

Many folks ignore or put off signs and symptoms of heart disease because “They don’t have time” or they feel like it is nothing. Thus, they don’t get checked out until it is too late. Or we will go to the doctor and the signs and symptoms are misdiagnosed or ignored and then when things are diagnosed it is too late. 

In this world of hustle and bustle and doing too much, it is easy to overlook symptoms or even misreport things to a physician. In that same breath, it has happened where physicians have overlooked things, misdiagnosed patients and blatantly ignored signs and symptoms and a patient has not pushed in the physician to investigate or run tests. I know this from experience. I went years without being accurately medicated and diagnosed until I kept having episodes of near-syncope and my heart rate rising uncontrollably. Finally, I pushed my doctor to investigate which landed me with a specialist who knew what he was looking for and then I was treated accurately. It was a great day when I got the treatment I needed. Since then things have gone smoothly! However, this is not always the case and many folks either live with their conditions in silence for years or even decades, or unfortunately succumb to their symptoms and they don’t have to. We have to do better at advocating for our care and making it normal to take the time to get checked out.

Overall, heart disease is a very manageable condition. However, we are doing a poor job of managing it as a developed nation. If we are serious at reducing the risk and mortality from this condition, we need to address the barriers to care, increase resources, raise awareness and not make it a taboo subject to receive care and slow down. Let’s work together to make the necessary changes in our communities…it will not only save lives but improve the quality of life.


Lead image courtesy of Getty Images

Originally published: March 5, 2021
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