The nation’s No. 1 killer is even more deadly for black Americans

February has been designated American Heart Month to help raise awareness that heart disease is the nation’s No. 1 killer.

February also is Black History Month, perhaps the ideal time to call attention to the fact that heart disease can be especially deadly for black Americans. They have higher rates of heart disease, are more likely to develop it earlier in life, and are less likely to receive the care they need.

What’s behind these health disparities? It’s a complicated combination of factors, including differences in the effectiveness and use of certain medications and procedures to treat heart disease in black Americans. For example:

  • Anticoagulants (commonly referred to as blood thinners) are often used to prevent clots that can cause heart attacks or stroke. But certain blood thinners are less effective in black Americans who metabolize the drugs differently because of a genetic variation. As a result, these patients have a higher risk of bleeding and death.
  • A large body of research shows that black Americans are less likely to be offered more advanced treatment for heart disease, such as coronary catheterization and coronary artery bypass surgery. Black Americans also have higher mortality rates following bypass surgery.

How Clinical Research Pathways is tackling these issues

Our signature effort, “Training Minority Clinical Teams: Getting New Quality Medicines to All Americans,” addresses these disparities through an innovative approach to increase diversity in clinical trials. If black Americans and other minority populations participate in clinical trials, we will discover how patients of different racial and ethnic groups respond to new medicines. We will learn which doses are most effective and whether some patients are more at risk for side effects than others. Most importantly, we can use that information to make better treatment decisions for all patients.

Our partner in this project, Morehouse School of Medicine (MSM), is recruiting minority providers from its physician network, and training and mentoring them to serve as clinical investigators. Their first clinical trials will target cardiovascular disease because of its impact on black Americans. These physicians already have strong doctor-patient relationships, so patients are more likely to trust physicians’ recommendations on taking medication and, when appropriate, participating in clinical trials.

What you can do

The Clinical Research Pathways-MSM effort focuses on longer-term solutions. But there are steps you can take right now to improve your heart health.

Start by knowing your risk. Does your family have a history of heart disease, high blood pressure, or high cholesterol? When is the last time you had your blood pressure or cholesterol levels checked? Are you overweight or under a lot of stress? Do you exercise and eat a healthy diet? Do you have diabetes? Your answers to these and other questions can help you and your physician figure out if you’re at risk for heart disease—and act to treat or prevent it.

 Talk with your physician about medications and clinical trials. Ask your physician about the most effective ways to treat heart disease-related conditions. If your physician recommends medication, ask about the dose they’re prescribing, the potential benefits, risks, and side effects. If you’re interested in participating in a clinical trial, be sure to mention that, too.

The more information you have, the more equipped you’ll be to make the best decisions for your long-term health and well-being.