A new study finds that heart disease, the number one killer of all Americans, is now going after relatively young African Americans, reports Time.
Researchers from the University of California, San Francisco discovered that Black adults develop heart disease at 20 times the rate of their White counterparts with one in 100 of us experiencing heart failure in our 30s and 40s. That one percent rate of heart failure is actually very similar to the heart disease rate of White folks in their 50s and 60s.
"What these data point out is that it’s important to recognize that disease patterns differ in different populations," said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo one of the study’s authors. "We would have completely missed this at-risk group had we only been looking at older age groups. We would have also missed them if we had not been studying African Americans in large numbers."
The survey, commissioned by the feds, began almost 15 years ago with the goal of finding out how frequently young people are affected by the disease. Researchers looked at the vital signs of more than 5,000 volunteers from four cities, including their blood pressure, weight, cholesterol, blood sugar and kidney functions. The subjects were tested six times of over the course of 20 years.
Black people who contracted heart disease early were afflicted with one or more of the main risk factors — being overweight, high blood pressure, low levels of "good” cholesterol or chronic kidney disease.
Blood pressure was a particularly important risk factor: For every 10 mm increase in diastolic blood pressure, the chance of developing heart disease while in their 40s increased twofold. Body mass index (BMI) was also a predictor for heart failure. The chances of developing heart disease increased by 40 percent with each 5.7 point increase in BMI.
Chronic kidney disease, often the result of unchecked diabetes and obesity, was the largest risk factor for Black adults. Participants with this condition were 20 times more likely to develop heart failure. "Here we have tangible evidence that heart failure in the young is a real dilemma," Dr. Clyde Yancy, president-elect of the American Heart Association, told Time.
Another revelation? Black people don’t get the right care for these types of conditions. When the study began in 1985, only 25 percent of Black participants with high blood pressure were taking medication for it. Ten years later, that figure only increased by 18 percent.
"The number of individuals with controlled blood pressure is embarrassingly low," said Clyde. "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?"
The study also concluded that Black people with those risk factors are likely to develop more, which also go untreated.
"Our ability to intervene early and appropriately is limited," said Clyde. "That is something that we need to change because I think it’s a crisis."
– Whitney Teal