TAMPA, Fla. — As Black History Month begins, special attention is being drawn on Friday to Wear Red Day, an awareness campaign for all Americans about heart health.
But in the Black community, doctors are hoping the message resonates even more.
According to the American Heart Association, Black Americans are 30% more likely to have heart issues that lead to serious complications or fatalities.
Dr. Bibhu Mohanty specializes in structural heart diseases at the University of South Florida and Tampa General Hospital.
“We know that whether it's genetic or related to various inheritable factors, there is a higher rate and risk associated with things like hypertension, diabetes and inflammatory disorders in folks of African origin,” said Mohanty. “So that is something that is biologically a reality. And our task is to find ways to mitigate that risk.”
Mitigating the risk is why more attention is being paid to heart health for Black Americans today.
Aside from awareness, Mohanty says the medical field needs to expand clinics into Black neighborhoods, as well as support Black students pursuing careers in medicine.
“There's been some literature lately about having physicians that look like you, right? And I think it starts from our end as physicians to promote and support physicians from the African American community, or students from the African American community who are aspiring to be physicians or health care workers in our community,” said Mohanty. And this is true of most populations, you want to go see someone who understands your culture and background and your mentality and some of the nuances about how you approach health care."
Mohanty says early intervention is key in heart health.
For Black Americans, Mohanty says conversations with doctors about heart health should start at 18 years old.
He says issues like hypertension, high blood pressure, cholesterol and diabetes are all manageable with diet changes and medications.
But left unchecked, by the time you are in your 40s and 50s the damage has already occurred, leaving you more susceptible to serious heart complications or strokes and heart attacks.
For more information on heart health, visit https://www.heart.org