Diseases & Conditions

Rapper’s Death Shows Need for Vigilance About Heart Failure in African Americans

By on 03/15/2018

Rapper Craig Mack’s death of heart failure at the age of 46 is a tragic reminder of the toll the disease takes on African Americans.

heart failure

Dr. Yinka Afolabi-Brown

A cardiologist from Einstein Healthcare Network cited hypertension as the root cause of heart failure and noted that it’s more prevalent among African Americans than any other race. “The incidence of hypertension is over 40 per cent among African Americans, compared to 28 per cent among whites or Hispanic Americans,” said Yinka Afolabi-Brown, MD.  “The other big risk factor is diabetes, and diabetes is also more common among African Americans.”

“So those two risk factors account for the reason that African Americans are more disproportionately affected by heart failure,” he said.

And while 46 seems tragically young to succumb to heart failure, African Americans also develop the disease at a younger age.  “Diabetes and hypertension develop earlier in African Americans and tend to be more aggressive,” Dr. Afolabi-Brown said. “Statistics show that heart failure occurring before the age of 50 is much more common among African Americans”

“If caught early enough, heart failure from high blood pressure can actually be reversible.”

People with high blood pressure often don’t have symptoms so “unfortunately only 80 percent of people who have it know it. A lot of these people who have it wind up developing heart failure. And among those with high blood pressure, only 50 percent are properly treated.”

Dr. Afolabi-Brown emphasized that African Americans with risk factors should be especially vigilant about monitoring their health.

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle, with a low-salt diet, exercise and appropriate weight.
  • Receive regular screenings of blood pressure once a year or at minimum, every other year.
  • Don’t ignore symptoms, such as rapid weight gain or sudden shortness of breath, which could signal the presence of hypertension and heart failure.

“People try to explain away their symptoms,” he said, urging people to “get checked regularly. If you notice any of those signs, don’t attribute it to a normal part of aging.”

The earlier the diagnosis, the better the prognosis, he said.  “If caught early enough, heart failure from high blood pressure can actually be reversible. Unfortunately, if you catch it at a very late stage, there’s too much damage,” Dr. Afolabi-Brown said.

The American Heart Association recently changed the criteria of high blood pressure.  A reading above 130 systolic and 80 diastolic (130/80) is now considered high.

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