African Americans and Heart Disease

Posted on: February 20, 2015

Beating Heart Disease When the Risks are High

By Dr. Robert Pilchik

Heart disease is the number one killer of Americans, according to the American Heart Association. It takes more lives than all cancers combined. For African-Americans,

Robert Pilchik, MD, FACC Chief, Cardiology Northern Westchester Hospital

Robert Pilchik, MD, FACC
Chief, Cardiology
Northern Westchester Hospital

the disease is particularly deadly: Before the age of 50, African-American’s rate of heart failure is 20 times higher than Caucasians, according to research published in the New England Journal of Medicine. Despite the grim nature of these statistics, there is hope.

Many of the major risks for African-Americans are modifiable with lifestyle changes and, when warranted, drug treatment. African-Americans tend to have higher blood pressure on average than other populations; they are also more likely to have dangerous cholesterol levels, suffer from chronic kidney disease, and struggle with weight issues.

“Just losing five to 10 percent of your bodyweight
can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease.”

One well-established cause of high blood pressure is sodium—salt—in the diet, and research suggests that African-Americans may carry a gene that makes them more salt sensitive. By choosing low-sodium foods and eating more fruits and vegetables, blood pressure can be lowered.

Regular exercise—even daily walks—can also reduce blood pressure. If a patient’s blood pressure doesn’t respond to lifestyle changes or is already dangerously high, it can be controlled with safe and proven medications.

African-Americans also tend to have lower levels of the ‘good’ HDL cholesterol. Again, a healthy diet with lots of produce and lean protein such as poultry along with regular exercise can have a significant impact in improving cholesterol numbers. What’s more, statin drugs are very effective in lowering ‘bad’ LDL cholesterol.

Weight, another risk factor for stroke and heart disease, can also be managed with lifestyle changes. Just losing five to 10 percent of your bodyweight can significantly reduce your risk for heart disease. Shedding pounds can also lower the risk of diabetes, which also increases the likelihood of suffering a stroke or heart attack. Diabetes is another chronic disease that is higher in African-Americans: Their risk is about double that of non-Hispanic whites.

Visit your physician to learn more about your risk for heart disease and stroke. Understand your factors and put a plan in place to address them. Northern Westchester Hospital offers programs on a variety of chronic diseases as well as FREE tobacco cessation programs (smoking can dramatically raise your risk of heart problems and stroke) that can be incorporated into your personal healthcare plan. Give yourself the gift of health this year – even a few simple improvements will make a big difference to your wellbeing.

Stop heart disease before it’s started. Visit and get an assessment of your heart health.

Editor’s Note:
Robert Pilchik, MD, FACC is Chief of Cardiology of Northern Westchester Hospital. He is known for his compassion and for helping patients understand their cardiac health. In addition to clinical cardiology, Dr. Pilchik performs diagnostic cardiac catheterizations; cardioversions; transthoracic, transesophageal and stress echocardiograms; transvenous pacemakers; cardiac CTA/calcium scoring; and nuclear stress testing. Dr. Pilchik is a member of Westchester Health with offices in Mt. Kisco, Yorktown Heights and Valhalla.

Read more blog posts on heart health.

Northern Westchester Hospital
offers a Tobacco Cessation Clinic — at NO Charge — to all community memebers. Please call
Jennifer Lucas at 914-6666-1868 for more information.

Learn about cardiac rehabilitation services at Northern Westchester.