For African-Americans in COVID-19 Era, Focus on Heart Health is More Vital Than Ever

New research on coronavirus patients adds to a growing collection of studies that COVID-19 disproportionately affects racial and ethnic minorities.

African-American COVID-19 patients have 2.7 times the odds of being admitted to the hospital, compared to non-Hispanic white patients — after taking into account sex, age, income and co-morbid health conditions, according to a new study in the journal Health Affairs by researchers affiliated with Sutter Health, a nonprofit health system in northern California.

Moreover, African-Americans disproportionately have underlying risk factors, such has high blood pressure, and are far more likely to be diagnosed with and die from coronary heart disease. This puts African-Americans at a higher risk of serious illness from the coronavirus.

Marcus E. St. John, M.D., interventional cardiologist with Miami Cardiac & Vascular Institute

“In terms of cardiovascular health, there is adisproportionate occurrence of risk factors in African-Americans,” says MarcusSt. John, M.D., interventional cardiologist with MiamiCardiac & Vascular Institute, part of Baptist Health SouthFlorida.

According to statistics from the American Heart Association,heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the UnitedStates. Every year, one in four deaths is caused by heart disease – more thanall forms of cancer combined. One particular group, however, has a much higherrisk of heart disease.

Statistics from show thatAfrican-Americans are:

• 40 percent more likely to havehypertension (high blood pressure), yet 10 percent less likely than theirnon-Hispanic, White counterparts to have it under control

• More than three times aslikely to die from heart disease caused by high blood pressure than Caucasians

• More likely to die fromstress-related heart attacks (African-American men) than any other ethnic groupin the U.S.

There could be a variety of reasons for these disparities, accordingto Dr. St. John, who also serves as Medical Director of the CardiacCatheterization Lab at Baptist Hospital.

“Some of it may be due to geneticpredispositions. For instance, we know that African-Americans are more likelythan other groups to be salt-sensitive, making them more likely to develophypertension, a major contributor to coronary artery disease,” Dr. St. Johnsays.

Socio-economic conditions, healthcare illiteracy and lack ofaccess are also factors, he says, as is a culturally rooted distrust of institutionalizedhealthcare.

“As a result, by the time they do eventually get diagnosed,their heart disease may have progressed further and be far more serious, whichcontributes to a higher death rate for this particular population, ” Dr. St.John says.

The good news, however, is that heart disease can often beprevented by making healthy choices and managing your health conditions.

First, he says, know your numbers. “Knowing your bloodpressure and cholesterol numbers – what they are and where they should be – isimportant and can easily be done at your local pharmacy or a walk-in clinic.”

Beyond that, making healthy choices is key to maintaining ahealthy heart, Dr. St. John says. “In most cases, heart disease can beprevented by adopting a healthy lifestyle.”

Heart-healthy lifestyle choices, according to Dr. St.John, include:

• Not smoking

• Maintaininga healthy weight

• Controllingblood sugar and cholesterol

• Limitingfoods high in salt, sugar and fat

• Increasingconsumption of fruits and vegetables

• Treatinghigh blood pressure

• Gettingadequate sleep (7 to 8 hours a night, minimum)

• Exercisingregularly – at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity physical activity a week

• Gettingregular check-ups

“First thing I advise is to takea 15-minute walk, whether you’re at work or at home,” Dr. St. John says. “That’san easy starting point. And if you’re used to walking, make it a 30-minutewalk. Then, start focusing on other ways you can maintain a healthy heart.”

Cardiologists have the training,tools and technology and to help treat your heart disease, Dr. St. John says. “Butit’s up to you to make smart choices and take care of your heart – not just inFebruary but all year long.”

Healthcare that Cares

With internationally renowned centers of excellence, 12 hospitals, more than 27,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 200 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties, Baptist Health is an anchor institution of the South Florida communities we serve.

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