African-American Heart-Attack Survivors Cite Experiences a "Wake-up Call" to Address Health and Life Issues

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African Americans who have suffered a heart attack consider their experience a "wake–up call" that leads to re–evaluating priorities, growing closer to faith, and recognizing the importance of strong heart–health behaviors, according to new survey findings announced in January by the National Medical Association (NMA). While a majority of those surveyed view their heart attack as a second chance at life, the results surprisingly indicate that nearly 30 percent of African Americans are not doing everything they can to avoid another heart attack. In fact, according to the survey findings, 27 percent of African–Americans do not take their heart medications exactly as prescribed by their physicians after their heart attack.

Approximately half the heart attack survivors surveyed reported there is not enough information available about preventing future heart attacks or what to do after having one. Many of those polled feel that speaking to another heart–attack survivor could provide much needed information. Overall, the survey finds that while African–American heart–attack survivors look at their heart attack as a wake–up call, they lack information to prevent a second incident.

"When we look at the percentage of the African–American population that suffers heart attacks and the resulting death rate, compared to other ethnic groups, we see a clear disparity that illustrates significant need for education and support initiatives for heart health within our community," stated Albert W. Morris, Jr., M.D., president of the NMA. "Through the ’Heartfelt Wake–Up Call’ campaign, the NMA hopes to create a community among survivors, provide additional information to those survivors, embrace and support their efforts to live a heart–healthy life after a heart attack, and prevent another one from occurring."

To raise awareness in the African–American community, the NMA commissioned the survey of African–American heart–attack survivors. This initiative is part of the Heartfelt Wake–Up Call campaign, started in 2005 by Mended Hearts, a heart–patient organization affiliated with the American Heart Association. The campaign offers information to better help African–American heart–attack survivors and their caregivers cope with life after a heart attack. Additional information, including tips sheets, survivor stories and heart–healthy recipes, is available on www.heartfeltsupport.com and www.mendedhearts.org.

Inside the Heart of a Survivor

The survey of more than 500 African–American heart attack survivors taps into the emotional impact of heart attacks. A majority indicate their heart attack forced them to face their mortality (62 percent), they now spend more time with friends and family (66 percent), are motivated to accomplish goals (62 percent), and are trying to move closer to God and their faith (67 percent). A majority of heart–attack survivors say the experience made them realize how much they want to see their children and grandchildren grow up (68 percent).

The survey also shows that in addition to viewing their heart attack as a wake–up call (68 percent), those surveyed acknowledge that they are at higher risk for having another heart attack (93 percent), and that they are at increased risk of developing a chronic condition such as heart failure (73 percent).

"Studies show that African–American heart patients may have a different natural history of heart failure than non African–American patients and may be less likely to receive guideline–recommended, evidence–based therapies due to less access to care. Certain heart medications, like beta–blockers, are often underutilized even though they’ve been shown to reduce the chance of another heart attack and reduce the risk of dying in heart–attack patients with damaged hearts," stated Dr. Clyde Yancy, medical director of the Baylor Heart and Vascular Institute of Baylor University Medical in Dallas, Texas. "As an unfortunate result, re–hospitalization rates among African–American heart patients are high. In addition, the incidence of diabetes and hypertension in this population further complicates post–heart attack treatment. Therefore it is critical that African–American heart–attack survivors, along with their families, are aware of the risks and gain the information and support they need."

Heart Attacks among African Americans

Each year in the U.S., nearly 900,000 people suffer from heart attacks, known medically as myocardial infarction. Within just six years, nearly 20 percent of men and 35 percent of women will have another heart attack, a risk that is heightened in the winter months. Annually, it is estimated that nearly 125,000 African–Americans will experience a new or repeat heart attack or fatal cardiovascular–disease event. In fact, more than 18,000 African–American men and women died as a result of a heart attack in 2002.

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