Heart Failure Afflicts Surprising Number of Young African-Americans

By Eliza Strickland | March 19, 2009 11:16 am

heart diseaseThe hearts of African-American adults are apparently under extraordinary stress. A broad, long-term study has found that African-Americans are developing heart failure at a rate 20 times higher than whites, and some are dying of the disease decades before the condition typically proves fatal in whites. “Blacks in our study who were in their 30s and 40s had the same rate of heart failure as whites in their 50s and 60s,” said [lead researcher] Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo…. “These are people who are in the prime of their life and should be contributing in all kinds of ways,” Dr. Bibbins-Domingo added, “so this disease has a devastating effect, not just on the individual patient but on the family, the community and society in general” [The New York Times].

Researchers say the findings show that narrowly focused research in the past has left striking gaps in our understanding of heart disease, which is the top cause of death for Americans. Says Bibbins-Domingo: “We usually thought of heart failure as a disease of older people, but that’s based on studies by mostly white participants.” … Researchers and cardiology specialists called the findings alarming and a call to action. The scientific community should step up its research on the risk factors and design clinical trials to study specialized treatment for black patients, they said [Baltimore Sun]. They also urge young African-Americans to take the threat seriously, and hedge against it with a healthy diet and exercise.

The study examined rates of heart failure over a 20-year period, using more than 5,000 subjects who were 18 to 30 years old at enrollment in the mid-1980s. By the end of the study, 27 participants had developed heart failure, all but one of them black. The researchers estimate that heart failure strikes one in 100 African-Americans under age 50. The researchers also tracked the test subjects’ blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, blood sugar, and kidney function. The findings show that heart failure was predicted by “the presence of hypertension, obesity, chronic kidney disease … 10 to 15 years earlier” [Reuters], researchers write in the study, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Heart failure is a chronic condition in which the heart can’t pump out enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Researchers stress that it can often be prevented with a healthy lifestyle and medical attention to treat risk factors like high blood pressure. Clyde Yancy, president-elect of the American Heart Association, notes that the study found that at the beginning of the study, 75% of black participants with hypertension were not taking medication for their condition; 10 years later, 57% still remained untreated…. “The number of individuals with controlled blood pressure is embarrassingly low,” says Yancy. “That indicates a problem not only of understanding the biology of blood pressure, and why it occurs more frequently in young African Americans, but also why we aren’t intervening more aggressively and effectively to treat it. Does it represent some form of bias? Of stereotyping? Or lack of access to care?”  [Time].

Related Content:
80beats: Obese Kids Have the Arteries of 45-Year-Olds, Study Finds
80beats: Proposal to Prescribe Cholesterol Drugs to Kids Raises a Fuss
DISCOVER: Gaining Pounds, Losing Years

Image: iStockphoto

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Health & Medicine
  • Delores Mitchell

    I am a 52 year old African-American single woman, taking a cholesterol lowering drug for the past 2-3 years straight, off and on for since 1998. I’ve never had high blood pressure which runs in my family or a heart attack. And I don’t have diabetes either. I eat very healthy which excludes all red meat and get my exercise through my physical employment job. When I see and hear young people talk and particularly young African-American young people. The attitude is: If they feel good and look good there is no need to see a doctor until there is a problem. One of the major factors in good health vs bad health is life style choices, which is also a personal choice. Those who are into sports, you would think have a better chance of catching potential problems early, but that isn’t so either, especially when they make the national news because they became over-heated from football practice and hours later died. Young people are consumed in self -pride in their looks and what they can do and accomplish and this is where the fine line is at. It is never a good thing in being over-confident or thinking that one is in-penetrable. I think so many people see this in all walks of life in today’s world, especially here in the United States of America.

  • Jason

    The TOP 3 factors contributing to young african american heart disease are: KFC, Popeye’s, and Church’s Chicken.

  • http://www.louisvuitton78.com/ louisvuitton78

    Thank you, I have recently been searching for information about this subject for ages and yours is the greatest I’ve discovered so far. But, what about the conclusion? Are you sure about the source?

  • http://www.guidelineshypertension.com hypertension

    I was just recently diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension as soon as last week. I did not know why I have been so short of breath and cant walk up 3 steps without trying to catch my breath, the last three weeks my feet ankles and legs have been swollen which caused my doctor to run tests and PH was the result. I am so scared I would like to talk to others that have this I am 53 years old and have always been super active and hyper naturally that this is very difficult to swallow but mostly cause it is so new, I am just somewhat greatful that at least I know what the problem is.


Discover's Newsletter

Sign up to get the latest science news delivered weekly right to your inbox!


80beats is DISCOVER's news aggregator, weaving together the choicest tidbits from the best articles covering the day's most compelling topics.

See More

Collapse bottom bar