One important thing Black women need to know most is that cardiovascular disease is our number one killer.

It accounts for nearly 50,000 deaths in Black women each year. The term “cardiovascular disease” refers to problems with the heart and blood vessels. Almost 50% of Black women aged 20 and over have some form of heart disease. While these statistics may sound depressing, there is good news. There are many things that you can do to lower your risk for developing heart disease like getting a heart health screening. Here’s what you need to know.

What A Heart Health Screening Entails

In general, a heart health screening will assess five key numbers (see below). Your health care provider may also ask about your family history and lifestyle factors like smoking that put you at increased risk for heart disease.

  1. Total cholesterol. Total cholesterol is a combined measure of HDL cholesterol (good), LDL cholesterol (bad), and triglycerides (a type of fat found in your blood). Cholesterol is a waxy, fat-like substance that’s found in all the cells in your body. Too much cholesterol in your body can cause plaque buildup in your arteries. This can lead to a common type of heart disease called coronary artery disease.
  2. HDL or high-density lipoprotein. This is known as the “good” cholesterol because it carries cholesterol from other parts of your body back to your liver. Your liver then removes the cholesterol from your body.
  3. Blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is when the force of blood flowing through your blood vessels is consistently too high. Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a major concern because it can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
  4. Blood sugar. Also referred to as blood glucose, it’s the main sugar found in your blood. It comes from the food you eat and is the body’s main source of energy. Your blood carries glucose to all of your body’s cells to use for energy. If your blood sugar is too high, you may develop diabetes, which can lead to serious problems like kidney or eye damage. Diabetes is a risk factor for developing heart disease.
  5. Body Mass Index. Being overweight or obese is a major risk factor for heart disease. A good way to tell if you’re at a healthy weight is know your body mass index or BMI. Your BMI is based on your height and weight. A high BMI can be an indicator of high body fatness. Online BMI calculators can help you figure out your weight category (underweight, normal, overweight or obese).

When Should I Start

“Heart health screenings should begin at age 20,” says Steinbaum, noting that people with a strong family history of heart disease and other conditions like diabetes should talk to their doctor about how often they should get screened. That’s because higher risk patients may need more frequent screening and monitoring compared people who have an average risk for heart disease. It’s important to work in partnership with your doctor to develop a screening plan that’s right for you

Don’t Forget About Lifestyle Changes

About 80% of cardiovascular disease is preventable with lifestyle changes like diet, exercise, weight management, and quitting smoking. But for many women, lifestyle changes can be overwhelming.  Remember to start small and keep the faith. Small changes can lead to big results over time. Ask your health care provider about heart health tools and resources to help you reach your goals.


PHOTO CREDIT: The New York City District Council of Carpenters Benefit Funds

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