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African Americans: Protect your heart

Feb. 15, 2016—February is both Black History Month and American Heart Month, which makes it a good time to learn the health risks African Americans face—and learn practical ways to protect your heart.

Heart disease. Heart disease is a leading cause of death for African Americans. And it's not just a man's problem: Every year, about 80,000 black men and 65,000 black women have a heart attack or other fatal heart problem.

High blood pressure. The prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans in the U.S. is among the highest worldwide, according to the American Heart Association (AHA). The condition harms blood vessels and can cause heart attack and stroke. In African Americans, it often develops early and tends to be more severe.

Obesity. African Americans have higher rates of obesity, which is bad for the heart, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports.

Diabetes. African Americans are disproportionally affected by diabetes, which can lead to serious complications, including heart disease and stroke.

Stroke. Black people have nearly double the risk of experiencing a first-ever stroke as white people, according to the AHA.

6 ways to help your heart

Here are some of the ways you can start protecting your heart and blood vessels:

  1. Get regular checkups. Find out about any heart-health risk factors you have, so you can manage them. Some, such as high blood pressure, have no warnings you'd notice.
  2. Cut back on artery-clogging fat. Switch to low-fat milk. Choose leaner meats, like chicken or fish, more often.
  3. Enjoy an active life. You might try taking short, brisk walks throughout the week.
  4. Limit salt. African Americans may be much more vulnerable to salt's blood pressure-boosting effect.
  5. Eat plenty of fruits and veggies. Plan your meal around vegetables instead of meat.
  6. Ask your doctor for help quitting tobacco, if you smoke.

You can learn more about heart risk and preventing problems in the heart health topic center.

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