Risk Factors for Cardiovascular
PBWHP seeks to improve the health of
Black women by providing wellness education and services,
health information and advocacy.
Who Gets Cardiovascular Disease
Some women have more risk factors for cardiovascular
disease than others. Risk factors are habits or traits that
make a person more likely to develop a disease. Some risk
factors for heart-related problems cannot be changed but
many are a direct result of lifestyle and diet issues. The
major risk factors for cardiovascular disease that you can
do something about are cigarette smoking, high blood
pressure, high blood cholesterol, obesity and physical
inactivity.1 Diabetes is another risk
factor that you have some control over. Being exposed to or
practicing just one risk factor will raise your chances of
having heart-related problems. So the more risk factors
you have, the more likely you are to develop cardiovascular
diseaseóand the more concerned you should be about
protecting your heart health.
HYPERTENSION - High blood pressure is
a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Normal
blood pressure should be less than 140/90 if you are an
adult. High blood pressure can damage blood vessels in
various parts of the body. African American women have
an increased risk of developing high blood pressure if
they are 20 pounds over a healthy weight (for their
height and build), have a family history of high blood
pressure, are pregnant and have reached menopause.
PHYSICAL INACTIVITY - Studies have
revealed that physical inactivity increases the risk of
heart disease. It contributes directly to heart-related
problems and indirectly increases the risk of stroke and
the development of other risk factors (i.e., diabetes
and high blood pressure).2 Regular to
moderate exercise is important in preventing heart
disease and lowering blood pressure. More than half of
the African American female population have sedentary
lifestyles and do not achieve the recommended level of
exercise. This is consistently and negatively related to
the development of chronic disease in African American
OVERWEIGHT/OBESITY - The Centers for
Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have declared
obesity an epidemic. People who have excess body fat are
more likely to develop heart disease and other health
conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and
stroke. Excess weight increases the strain on the heart,
raises blood pressure and blood cholesterol. Losing 10
to 20 pounds can help lower heart disease risk. Improved
nutrition and sensible health habits can help to control
high blood pressure and directly reduce obesity, thereby
lowering the risk of cardiovascular disease.
HIGH BLOOD CHOLESTEROL3 -
High blood cholesterol is a major risk factor for heart
disease. Cholesterol is a soft, fat-like substance found
in all body cells which travels through the bloodstream.
It is made in your body, but can also come from foods
derived from animals. Cholesterol can become a problem
if you have too much in your body. A personís
cholesterol level is affected by age, sex, heredity and
diet. Your doctor can use a blood test to determine your
total blood cholesterol level. A good cholesterol level
is less than 200 mg/dl.
TOBACCO USE - Cigarette smoking is a
major cause of heart disease. Smokers have twice the
risk of a heart attack than non-smokers. Nearly 180,000
deaths from heart disease are attributable to smoking.
Constant exposure to other peopleís smoke, known as
second-hand smoke, increases the risk of heart disease
even for non-smokers.
DIABETES - Diabetes significantly
increases the risk of developing cardiovascular disease.
It is the fastest growing risk factor for heart disease
in the United States and is considered an epidemic. In
addition, health outcomes among African American women
are far worse than those of White women.4
Twenty-five percent of African Americans between the
ages of 65 and 74 have diabetes. African
American women are 1.7 times more likely to have
diabetes than non-Latino White women.
1American Heart Association., Inc. Women,
Heart Disease, and Stroke. 2000
2 National Heart Lung and Blood Institute.
Heart Disease and Women: Are you at risk? NIH Publication
No. 98-3654. Revised 1998
3CDC. National Center for Chronic Disease
Prevention and Health Promotion.
4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC). Women and Heart Disease: An Atlas of Racial and
Ethnic Disparities in Mortality.
Black Women's Health Project © 2002