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Higher Heart Disease Risk in Hispanic Women

Hispanic women have more heart disease risk factors at an earlier age than white women, challenging the long-held belief that they have less heart disease. This finding was presented on March 2 at the American Heart Association’s 47th Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention in Orlando, Florida.

The conventional wisdom is that Hispanic men and women have fewer heart attacks and strokes than whites—a fact that is substantiated by national statistics. “In clinical practice, however, we see the opposite, with Hispanic patients who seem to have heart disease earlier than Caucasians,” said lead author John C. Teeters, MD, a fellow in the Department of Cardiology at the University of Rochester, New York.

To investigate the anomaly, Dr. Teeters and his fellow researchers conducted free community health screenings at churches, community centers, and outpatient clinics that cater to Hispanics. They measured heart disease risk factors in 79 Hispanic women and 91 white women. Despite the fact that the Hispanic women were on average 10 years younger than the white women (53 vs. 63 years) and less likely to be postmenopausal (61% vs. 85% of whites), they had a similar risk of heart disease.

Levels of diabetes, high cholesterol, and high blood pressure were about the same in both groups of women, as was waist measurement. However, Hispanic women were more likely to have prehypertension (32% vs. 19%). Prehypertension is when your blood pressure is higher than ideal but not yet in the hypertension range (a reading between 120/80 and 140/90). Hispanic women were also less physically active than their Caucasian counterparts.

Rates of metabolic syndrome were also slightly higher in Hispanics (50% vs. 45%). The metabolic syndrome is a clustering of 3 or more of the following risk factors: higher than normal blood sugar, blood pressure, or triglyceride levels, a large waistline, and low HDL (good) cholesterol.

If Hispanic women have a higher risk of heart disease, why isn’t this borne out in national death statistics? Dr. Teeters believes that Hispanics are underrepresented in census and health records for many reasons: they are less likely to answer census questions, possibly due to concerns about immigration status; they are less likely to seek care when they are sick; and when they become ill, they tend to return to their homelands.

“Doctors should consider more aggressively treating and trying to prevent heart disease at earlier ages [in Hispanics],” concluded Dr. Teeters.

Note: WHF's research study confirms this disease trend. Of the six sophomore girls identified with metabolic syndrom indicators, all were hispanic. Source: Poster P327, 2007 Annual Conference on Cardiovascular Disease Epidemiology and Prevention, Orlando, Florida. Reprinted from healthywomen.org

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