Did you know...in 2005, heart disease killed over 4,000 Black women in NYC?

Editor June 14th, 2011

Heart disease in East and Central Harlem is a big concern. In 2005, these two areas in Harlem had among the highest percentages of people who died from heart disease in all of Manhattan.

For women, heart disease is a major health problem in New York City. It was the top cause of death for New York City women, killing over 12,000. Black women accounted for 36% of these heart disease deaths. This article will help you understand heart disease and what you can do to reduce the likelihood you will develop the disease.

What is heart disease?

If you have a cardiovascular (heart) disease, it means that there is something wrong with the way your heart is built or works.

Cardiovascular diseases can include:
• Coronary artery disease (including heart attack)
• Unusual heart beats (arrhythmias)
• Heart failure
• Heart valve disease
• Heart muscle disease (cardiomyopathy)
• Pericardial disease (disease of the sac that surrounds the heart)
• Vascular disease (disease of the blood vessels)

Black women are more at risk

Black women are more likely to be affected by heart disease compared with white women. Also, the occurrence of diseases related to heart disease (such as obesity, high blood pressure and high cholesterol) is higher in black women than in white women.

How to reduce your risk!
If you are a black woman, here are some things you should know about your risk for heart disease and what you can do to decease that risk:

Risk factors you can't change:

Age: When you turn 55, your chance of developing heart disease goes up

Menopause: If you went through early menopause, you are at increased risk

Family: If your parents or siblings had heart attacks at young ages (55 for men, 65 for women), you are more likely to develop heart disease

What you can change:

High blood pressure: The force with which your blood pumps through your blood vessels is blood pressure. When blood has difficulty flowing (for example, your arteries are clogged), your blood pressure goes up. You can help lower your blood pressure by 1) eating less salt (or sodium), 2) losing weight if you are overweight, or 3) taking steps to reduce your stress level. Sometimes medication is given to help reduce blood pressure.

High cholesterol: If you have too much cholesterol in your blood, a fatty substance can build up in your blood vessels. If your blood vessels become too clogged, blood won't be able flow to your heart or brain, causing heart attack or stroke. To lower your cholesterol, eating a healthy diet and exercising can go a long way to helping you to your goal cholesterol level. Sometimes medication is needed to control high cholesterol.

Smoking: If you smoke, your chances of damaging your heart and having a heart attack at an early age are higher. Smoking increases the chance that you will have high blood pressure because nicotine causes your blood vessels to be more narrow. Smoking also decreases your levels of good cholesterol. Look for ways to stop smoking that work for you.

• Your weight: Being overweight puts a strain on your heart's ability to pump blood. Maintaining a healthy weight will keep your heart from overworking itself. For tips on how to lose weight, click here.

Even if you have risk factors you can't change, it is always possible to reduce your risk of developing heart disease. Talk with your doctor and know your blood pressure and cholesterol numbers and about your health concerns. They can recommend changes you can make or medication that is appropriate for you.

Heart Attacks: Recognize the Symptoms and Get Help

Many people think they can know a heart attack by chest pain, but many women who have had hard attacks say they had more subtle signs. The following symptoms could signal a heart attack in women but might be dismissed by doctors or not recognized by women themselves:
• Extreme weakness, anxiety or shortness of breath
• Unusual fatigue
• Shortness of breath
• Pain in the shoulder blade or upper back
• Belching

It is also important to know these common symptoms that both men and women experience when having a heart attack:
• Chest pain (not as common in women)
• Pain that goes to the middle of the back, neck, arm or jaw
• Sweating, nausea, vomiting or dizziness
• Shortness of breath
• Rapid or irregular heartbeats
• Fullness, indigestion or choking feeling (may feel like heartburn)

Now that you know what to look for, if you or someone you know experiences these symptoms don't wait! Call 911! The faster you get treated, the less likely you will have extensive damage to your heart.

For more information:

ABC News Video on heart disease in minority women

Sign in or join now to save events.