Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States. Many of us know that, and are attentive to the factors that we can control – including what we eat, how much we exercise, how much we weigh and whether we smoke. In addition, we hopefully watch out for the silent warning signs that can lead to heart disease: elevated blood pressure and cholesterol. But there is another risk factor that should be taken into the equation: race and ethnicity.
The truth is that there are differences in how diseases impact people of different races. Here are some facts:
Sorting out racial and ethnic health disparities can be difficult, according to Palo Alto’s Latha Palaniappan, M.D, Medical Director, Clinical Research at Palo Alto Medical Foundation Research Institute.Opens new window “The risk for heart disease can be the interaction of hereditary tendencies with lifestyle choices, such as diet,” she says. “Add to the mix other socioeconomic factors, such as whether there is easy access to screening tests and medical care, and you have a complicated picture.”
Part of the focus of PAMF’s research institute is to study these factors and build systems of care that are culturally relevant to different ethnic groups.
As more research is conducted nationwide, the picture becomes slightly clearer. The recently revised guidelines for blood pressure treatment, by the 8th Joint National Committee on the Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure, suggested different protocols for the medications prescribed to African American patients with high blood pressure, based on the evidence that African Americans have better outcomes with calcium channel blockers or diuretics than with ACE inhibitor drugs.
So knowledge of racial and ethnic disparities in health can be powerful – if acted upon. Dr. Palaniappan emphasizes that the recommendations for dealing with heart disease are the same for all, however, she explains, “If you are in an ethnic group with a greater tendency toward heart disease, it becomes even more important to adopt healthy behaviors. Build healthy lifestyle practices into your routine – and make those habits for your entire family.”
In their simplest form, follow these guidelines:
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