Here at Aches and Gains, we have previously discussed heart disease and recognizing the pain symptoms associated with a heart attack, heart failure, or stoke. We’ve examined the implications of the increased risk of heart disease among Baby Boomers. But, men and women in their 50s, 60s and 70s are not the only group at risk for cardiovascular conditions, nor is age the only contributing factor.
February is American Heart Month. It is also Black History Month. Now is the time to reflect on the contributions of African Americans to the American experience, and to learn a little bit more about yourself and those around you. The juxtaposition of these two observances is an occasion to examine heart health and pain among African Americans.
Heart Health Factors for African Americans
Some groups are at greater risk for certain diseases than others. For instance, African-Americans are at a greater risk of developing heart disease, and have a higher rate of developing obesity, high blood pressure, and diabetes compared to other Americans.
This doesn’t mean that you are at a reduced risk if you are Caucasian, Asian, or Latino. Rather, it means that you should research your family’s health and genetic history to determine what diseases you might inherit, and then work to mitigate the impact of those risks on your life.
Contributing factors such as age, gender, and heredity you cannot control. If you are an older black woman whose grandmother and mother had heart disease, there is a higher risk that you will be affected as well.
Pain and Medical Conditions Associated With Heart Disease
High blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are common medical conditions associated with heart disease, and pain can be a factor for anyone living with these conditions.
Be aware of the statistics from the American Heart Association:
- 4% of African American men, and 48.9% of African American women have cardiovascular disease.
- African Americans have a risk of first-ever stroke that is almost twice that of whites
- The prevalence of high blood pressure in African-Americans is the highest in the world
- Among non-Hispanic blacks age 20 and older, 63% of men and 77% of women are overweight or obese
- African-Americans are more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic whites.
High blood pressure can lead to chest pain and stroke. A decrease in blood flow to the heart from continually elevated blood pressure can cause ischemia and chest pain. If blood pressure remains unchecked, it can also cause a stroke and strokes can lead to paralysis and nerve pain.
People with diabetes can develop nerve damage, particularly in their feet and hands. This is called diabetic neuropathy. In fact, 50% of those with diabetes develop neuropathic pain. This can not only leave your hands and feet feeling numb, but can cause a terrible burning and stinging sensation too.
Being overweight and obese can cause pain. Your joints suffer from excess force placed upon them. Over time, they can become arthritic and painful. The load bearing joints such as the hips, knees, and low back are often affected. Even the joints of the feet can become uncomfortable after standing or walking.
Furthermore, a 2012 study indicated that fat cells are known to produce chemicals that increase inflammation and, “we know that inflammation is very closely linked to pain perception.”
Diabetes, smoking, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and obesity can all be controlled by YOU. Despite your race or ethnicity, eating unhealthy foods and inactivity are surefire ways to increase your risk for heart disease, and diseases that can lead to chronic pain.
Some signs of heart disease are chest pain, shortness of breath, numbness, weakness or coldness in the extremities, and pain in the neck, jaw, throat, upper abdomen or back.
African Americans are statistically more at risk for developing diabetes, high blood pressure, and obesity. However, it is not a guarantee. Despite genetic circumstances, you have the power to prevent these diseases from injuring your heart with a healthy diet, exercise, and medications. The bonus is that all of these healthy strategies can limit the substantial effects of chronic pain resulting from obesity and diabetes, for instance.
As part of their African American Heart Disease Fact Sheet, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends following the ABCS to reduce risk and improve your heart health. Please take note of them:
- A– Take aspirin as directed by your health care provider.
- B– Control your blood pressure.
- C– Manage your cholesterol.
- S– Don’t smoke.
Remember, no one is immune to pain but together we can overcome it.