Latino Voices

Among Latinos, Heart Disease Is Leading Cause Of Death

pain in chest concept
pain in chest concept

February is American Heart Month, and while awareness is important for people of all ages and ethnicities, certain groups—like Latinos—are at a higher risk for heart-related diseases.

Close the Gap, an awareness campaign created specifically to bring attention to heart health disparities, indicates heart diseases are a leading cause of death for Hispanics in the U.S..

Among Mexican American adults alone, for example, 34.4 percent of women and 31.6 percent of men suffer from cardiovascular disease.

According to a study published in The Journal of the American Medical Association, Latinos born in the United States have an even larger risk for cardiovascular disease when compared to those born outside of the country. This might be related to the adoption of what is considered an American lifestyle, with higher levels of stress, processed diets and lack of activity.

Other Latino heart health statistics, according to the most recent data from the American Heart Association (AHA) and the American Stroke Association (ASA) include:

  • Among Mexican Americans age 20 and older, approximately 4 percent of men and women have angina, chronic chest pain caused by a lack of blood flow to the heart.
  • Mexican Americans have a higher incidence of ischemic stroke at younger ages.
  • Mexican Americans have a higher incidence of hemorrhage and subarachnoid hemorrhage than non-Hispanic whites.
  • Puerto Rican Americans have the highest hypertension-related death rate among all Hispanic subpopulations.
  • Tobacco use, which increases the risk for heart disease, was found in 15.2 percent of Latino males and 9 percent of Latinas aged 18 and older.
  • In 2010, only 14.4 percent of Latinos in the United States, aged 18 and older, met the Federal Physical Activity Guidelines.
  • Among Mexican Americans aged 20 and over, 77.5 percent of men and 75.1 percent of women are overweight or obese.

Martha L. Daviglus, M.D., Ph.D., a cardiovascular epidemiologist at Northwestern University and University of Illinois and an American Heart Association volunteer, told the AHA in a statement, language barriers, lack of transportation and lack of health insurance make prevention and early detection of heart disease in Latinos difficult.

“Hispanics are more likely to delay care, drop out of treatment when symptoms disappear and avoid visits to the doctor,” Daviglus explained.

Other factors which influence Latino heart health have to do with American cultural and environmental food influences, as Latinos are often drawn to fast foods such as sour cream and refried beans, or take the easy route of picking up hamburgers because both parents are working fulltime jobs.

“Any family with two working parents may find that $5 can get several hamburgers, but fruits and veggies are more expensive and take more time to prepare,” she said. “It’s an issue of time and money.”

Despite the hurdles, according to Daviglus, Latinos can reduce their risks for heart diseases by maintaining a healthy weight, keeping up with a diet full of fruits and vegetables, avoiding excess salt, and getting plenty of exercise.

For Latinos working multiple jobs or living in unsafe neighborhoods where exercise outdoors is an issue, Daviglus recommends walking at work, looking for a safe park or an indoor track. However it gets done, Latinos should attempt to get 30 minutes of daily physical activity.

Regardless of ethnicity, heart disease is a serious concern for all individuals, and is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States, claiming the lives of approximately one million people every year.

According to The Heart Foundation, women account for slightly more than half of all heart disease deaths, and worldwide, more than eight million women die from cardiovascular disease. Women also have a higher mortality rate post heart attack at 42 percent compared to men at 24 percent.

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