Black adults are twice as likely to die from their first heart attack than white individuals, new research shows.
While white people suffer more heart attacks overall, fewer black people survive a cardiac event in the United States, according to findings reported in the American Heart Association’s journal on Tuesday.
Researchers examined cardiac events in three major heart studies and found that in two of the studies, black adults aged 45-64 had about twice the risk of fatal events compared with whites.
Experts say this points to racial discrimination in the US healthcare system, and suggest black people are rarely diagnosed with a heart condition before it is too late.
‘These are not new findings, but it is disappointing that there continues to be a high risk of death for blacks at the presentation of heart disease, especially because there is so much you can do if you are able to live through your first heart attack,’ senior author Dr Monika Safford told Daily Mail Online.
‘Part of that can be linked to the racial and institutional discrimination in health care in the United States, and the lack of access to health care for blacks who are not diagnosed with the disease until they have a serious heart attack,’ Dr Safford explained.
The same was found to be true in older individuals, though the differences were less pronounced.
Although there is a higher probability of death in blacks who experience a heart attack, researchers also found that black men actually have a lower risk of a nonfatal event compared to white men.
Additionally, risk of coronary heart disease is equal in white and black men of the same age.
According to the research team, blacks have a higher burden of those unfavorable social determinants of health and cardiovascular risk factors due to things like biological differences and institutionalized differences in access to healthcare.
The finding that there is a lower risk of nonfatal cardiac events among blacks, particularly black men, was surprising to researchers.
‘It is possible that blacks might not be reaching out to doctors if the initial event is not recognized as a heart attack, though this study did not give insight into whether that is the case,’ Dr Safford said.
This fact suggests that another factor researchers did not or could not measure could be driving the findings.
‘I suspect people have mild symptoms that they don’t realize are related to a heart attack, and instead of going to the doctor, maybe because they don’t believe they need to or because they don’t have a doctor, people are assuming it’s fine and not realizing they just suffered a heart attack,’ Dr Safford explained.
If the heart condition is not recognized, medications that save lives after a heart attack cannot be offered.
‘Greater public awareness of heart attack symptoms would benefit everyone. Many people think that heart attacks are only present if they have severe chest pain,’ Dr Safford and Dr John J Kuiper, Professor of Medicine and Chief of General Internal Medicine at Weill Cornell medical College in New York said.
‘In fact, many heart attacks cause only mild symptoms and people may mistakenly think they are having a bout of indigestion,’ they explained.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death in American men and women, causing more than 610,000 deaths in the United States every year.