You Are More Likely to Die of Heart Failure If You're in This Group, Experts Say
This common condition is more lethal for one demographic in particular.
Our hearts do a lot of work every day. In addition to sending out various red flags to warn us when something might be wrong, they also beat approximately 115,000 times and pump 2,000 gallons of blood. While it's scary to think about something going wrong with this vital organ, heart failure is a prevalent and serious condition that affects about 6.2 million adults in the United States.
"Heart failure is a chronic, debilitating condition that occurs when the heart is not pumping enough blood for a body's needs," explains Alanna A. Morris, MD, an associate professor at the Emory University School of Medicine. "As of 2019, heart disease, which includes heart failure, was the number one cause of death in the U.S.," she says.
While certain dietary and lifestyle-related risk factors for heart disease are well known, studies have revealed a surprising factor that puts one group of people at a higher risk of dying from heart failure. Read on to find out what it is.
This group has been shown to have a worse outcome after heart failure.
When it comes to heart failure, there are a lot of variables. The condition can manifest with commonly known symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, or swelling, but warning signs can also be unexpected, like a suddenly overactive bladder, or changes in the appearance of your skin. Potential causes may include high blood pressure, certain diseases, blood clots, and even allergic reactions.
But one of the most surprising facts about heart failure is which group of people are proven to have a worse outcome. "Despite a similar prevalence of the chronic condition, women diagnosed with heart failure have worse outcomes compared to men," says Morris, who is an advisor with Hear Your Heart, an initiative which aims to help women—especially Black and Latina women—take control of their heart health.
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Racial disparities around heart failure contribute to negative outcomes.
"A deeper look reveals that among Black and Latina women with heart failure, negative health outcomes are magnified due to significant health disparities and inequities that exist in the management of the condition," explains Morris. She adds that Black women with heart failure have a higher mortality rate compared to white women, and that heart failure is the second leading cause of death for Latinas (with cancer being number one).
Why is there such a racial disparity with heart failure and Black and Latina women? In the U.S., 41 percent of African Americans have high blood pressure, which can lead to heart failure. In addition, according to the AHA, "Many Hispanic women have said that they [are] more likely to take preventative action for their families when it comes to heart health… and end up completely ignoring their own health in the process."
As a result, "Hispanic women are likely to develop heart disease 10 years earlier than non-Hispanics," according to the American Heart Association (AHA), which also points out that "Only one in three Hispanic women are aware that heart disease is their number one killer." (For Black women, that number is 36 percent.)
High blood pressure is just one risk factor for heart disease.
High blood pressure isn't the only factor that may increase your risk for heart disease, but it is a major one. Getting enough physical exercise and lowering your sodium intake can help lower your blood pressure, as can simple lifestyle adjustments like making time for naps, drinking tea, and following the DASH diet (Diet Approaches to Stop Hypertension).
However, having "normal" blood pressure does not guarantee protection against heart disease. Other conditions that may affect your heart's health are high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity—all of which affect Black and Hispanic Americans at higher rates. Black adults in the U.S. are 60 percent more likely than white adults to be diagnosed with diabetes, and an article published by the American Psychological Association notes that "Among African-American adults, nearly 48 percent are clinically obese (including 37.1 percent of men and 56.6 percent of women), compared to 32.6 percent of whites (including 32.4 percent of men and 32.8 percent of women)."
Women may need to take the lead on engaging with their doctors about heart health.
"Women living with heart failure should take an active role in their care by taking the time to prioritize their heart health," says Morris. "Making lifestyle changes, ensuring associated medical and mental health conditions are managed, and securing the right care team are all aspects of heart failure care and can be difficult to navigate."
Via the Hear Your Heart initiative, Morris advises women to actively and knowledgeably engage with their doctors about factors like their family history. (According to the AHA, "both the risk of heart disease and risk factors for heart disease are strongly linked to family history.")
Women should also "take time to reassess their unique heart failure needs and take control of their care—because better care starts with better understanding," Morris adds. "Taking the first step to feeling better starts with voicing health concerns to a doctor and getting the information needed to support the management of the condition and receiving the best care possible."