What to know about heart disease in Black and Hispanic women
[5 min read]
In this article:
Black adults are twice as likely as white adults to die from cardiovascular disease, or CVD, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
We’re shining a light on how heart disease affects Black and Hispanic women.
Heart disease affects marginalized communities, like the Black and Hispanic populations, disproportionately, especially women.
Recognizing the signs of heart disease in women, knowing tips for preventing or reversing the condition, and screenings can help.
What to know about heart disease in Black and Hispanic women
We’re shining a light on cardiovascular health — specifically, heart disease in Black and Hispanic women — and its impacts, warning signs and tips for prevention.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States — responsible for 1 in 5 female deaths. Yet only about half of women recognize the danger. For Black and Hispanic women, the percentage is even lower. Research shows that heart disease simply isn’t recognized enough in women.
While men and women have similar heart structures, the female heart is usually smaller with smaller blood vessels. That can make something like a heart attack feel different in women. Instead of feeling a sharp, sudden pain in their chest, for example, women may notice a dull pressure in their chest or shortness of breath, which they may attribute to something else.
They also may experience:
- Pain in the neck, jaw or throat
- Pain in the upper abdomen or back
- Nausea or vomiting
It’s important for women to learn to recognize the signs so they can seek treatment. This is especially true for Black and Hispanic women.
Heart disease in Black women
Heart disease kills more than 50,000 Black women each year. In fact, Black women in the United States are 30% more likely to die from the condition.
There are several reasons for this disparity:
- Genetics: Researchers have found there may be a gene that makes people who are Black more sensitive to the effects of salt, which increases their risk for high blood pressure, or hypertension — a major risk factor for heart disease. Also, people who are Black are more likely to have a family history of heart disease.
- Access: Researchers have found that many factors within the health care system, including bias, access to insurance and cultural differences, can lead to fewer minorities getting the right treatment at the right time.
- Socioeconomics: Factors like income and education levels, employment status and environmental factors can raise people’s risk of heart disease.
- Lifestyle behaviors: Heart disease is often linked to high blood pressure and diabetes. More than 58% of Black women ages 20 years and older have high blood pressure, and only about 20% of them have their blood pressure under control. Black women also tend to have higher rates of obesity, which can lead to heart disease.
Also, only 39% of Black women know that chest pain can be a sign of a heart attack, and only 33% know that pain that spreads to the shoulder, neck or arms is another warning sign.
Heart disease in Hispanic women
When it comes to heart disease, only 1 in 3 Hispanic women are aware of the risk. That’s at a time when the U.S. population of Hispanics is growing by leaps and bounds (the U.S. Census Bureau projects the group to reach 111 million by 2060) and death rates from heart disease in the population are accelerating along with it.
People who are Hispanic tend to have high rates of certain risk factors for heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, which can make them more susceptible to the condition.
They also are at a high risk of dying from cardiac arrest, or abrupt loss of heart function, outside the hospital. To help reverse this statistic, the American Heart Association launched the “Héroes Salvando Corazones (“Heroes Saving Hearts”) campaign last summer, with the goal of inspiring the Hispanic community to learn how to perform hands-only CPR.
The two steps are:
1) Call 911.
2) Push hard and fast on the center of the person’s chest at a rate of 100 to 120 beats per minute.
The campaign addresses systemic barriers to using CPR faced by Hispanic communities, and provides people with tools and resources so they can take action in emergency situations.
Preventing or reversing heart disease
Although there isn’t one cause of heart disease, there are risk factors that can make you more likely to develop it, like high blood pressure, obesity and diabetes. Some risk factors are determined by our genes and can’t be changed, but others come from how we live our lives. In these cases, we can make lifestyle changes to modify or eliminate heart disease risk factors entirely.
To prevent, control and sometimes even reverse heart disease, take these steps to live a heart-healthy lifestyle:
- Avoid smoking.
- Complete a physical activity for at least 30 minutes per day, five days a week.
- Eat a healthy diet that’s balanced and low in salt.
- Find healthy ways to cope with stress and support your well-being.
- Know your numbers, including blood pressure, cholesterol and body mass index (BMI).
- Talk to your doctor about your risk.
- Limit alcohol.
Our commitment to health equity
At Providence, we want to give every person the chance to live their healthiest life. To do that, we must recognize that long-standing inequities and systemic injustices exist in the world, which have led to health disparities among communities that have been marginalized because of their race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion or socioeconomic status.
We’re now three years into our five-year, $50 million investment to reduce health disparities and achieve health equity in the communities we serve. The funding has supported communities that were disproportionately affected by COVID-19, grown outreach and education opportunities, and expanded access to care.
It’s part of our mission to:
- Build, strengthen and maintain relationships with our diverse communities, including people of color, indigenous people, those who identify as LGBTQIA+ and others experiencing inequities, oppression and discrimination.
- Listen to and partner with our patients, communities and health plan members to understand and actively reduce structural, racial and cultural barriers to health for all.
- Partner with community organizations to develop data-informed health equity strategies and implement proven practices to resolve the root causes of health disparities.
- Amplify the voices of all identities impacted by oppression. Advocate to reform the drivers of health, social and economic disparities. And, in keeping with our faith tradition, use our voice to speak out against the structural racism and injustice that has led to a public health crisis.
- Prevent further harm, humbly welcome discussion and feedback, and foster a culture of continuous learning and transparency.
Providence heart institutes
The Providence health system has three award-winning heart institutes: Sacred Heart Medical Center in Spokane, Washington, the Providence Heart and Vascular Institute in Portland, Oregon, and Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, Washington.
These heart institutes serve as centers of innovation, delivering world-class health care to tens of thousands of patients each year. In addition to offering the latest advancements in diagnosis, research and treatment, the institutes give patients access to new therapies through clinical research trials, and wellness and prevention programs.
Find a doctor
If you need advice on how to protect your heart and what’s best for you, talk to your doctor. You can also find a Providence cardiologist using our provider directory.
Download the Providence app
We’re with you, wherever you are. Make Providence’s app your personalized connection to your health. Schedule appointments, conduct virtual visits, message your doctor, view your health records and more. Learn more and download the app.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional’s instructions.