Black History Month and American Heart Month both fall on February, and healthcare professionals say the connection between the two observances should not be ignored.
That’s because African-Americans are disproportionately harder hit by heart disease risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity. And they are more than three times as likely to die from heart disease caused by high blood pressure than non-Hispanic whites, according to the American Heart Association.
Moreover, African-American COVID-19 patients have a much higher risk of being hospitalized, compared to non-Hispanic white patients, several studies have indicated.
”Many risk factors such as hypertension (high blood pressure), diabetes and obesity tend to be more prevalent in African-American communities,” explains Marcus St. John, M.D., interventional cardiologist and medical director of Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute‘s Cardiac Catheterization Lab (Cath Lab). “And this trend may be mostly related to socioeconomic factors that lead to less access to healthy nutrition, less access to high quality healthcare, less health-seeking behaviors, and an increased to salt sensitivity which can lead to higher rates of hypertension. And sometimes it’s more difficult for Black Americans to achieve their blood pressure targets.”
According to a new national survey released by the Society for Cardiovascular Angiography & Interventions (SCAI), more than 45 percent of African-Americans and U.S. Hispanics would be uncomfortable going to the doctor’s office during the COVID-19 pandemic, compared to only 25 percent of the general population.
Dr. St. John says that the pandemic has mostly confirmed a distrust with healthcare systems among racial minorities as well as having further highlighted disparities in healthcare outcomes.
“Because African-Americans have disproportionately more heart disease risk factors that are known to be associated with worse COVID-19 outcomes — that is partly why we’re seeing higher numbers of minorities become hospitalized,” said Dr. St. John. “This is all related to decreased health-seeking behavior and the overall historical distrust of the medical establishment as well as access issues such as not having insurance or easy access to transportation to get to a testing site, and these types of things.”
With both Black History Month and American Heart Month, Dr. St. John emphasizes the “opportunity to remind the Black community to get vaccinated and for everyone to address this distrust.” And communities need to address access to healthcare among those who don’t have the resources to get medical help, he said.
“The pandemic has shed further light on disparities in minority communities and underprivileged communities,” says Dr. St. John. “When we see patients as physicians, we try to be as unbiased as possible. Yes, some of the health issues are the result of choices — poor nutrition and lack of exercise. But much of it is circumstances in which people live without ready access to health care, nutritious food and safe spaces for recreation.
According the Office of Minority Health, part of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African-Americans are:
- 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, and less likely than their non-Hispanic white counterparts to have their blood pressure under control.
- 20 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites.
- And African-American women are 60 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, compared to non-Hispanic white women.