HEALTH – March 2013

Heart disease and Latinos 

Heart disease is a growing problem in the United States, and the number one cause of death in this nation. Heart disease is caused when the arteries that feed your heart blood and oxygen are blocked, therefore depriving your heart of the necessary oxygen. This causes angina, otherwise known as chest pain. If this pain is ignored, then it can cause permanent damage to your heart or even death. Many people who have heart disease may not even know it until they must be hospitalized for it.

Latinos are the largest growing minority in the US, and they also tend to have a higher prevalence of the risk factors that lead to heart disease. According to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), 40% of Hispanic Americans report having two or more risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, current smoking, physical inactivity, and obesity. All of these risk factors are directly linked to heart disease, and the more risk factors you have, the higher your chance of developing heart disease.

Also, due to language barriers, Latinos may not be getting adequate information regarding their health and risk factors. This may cause a lack of communication from the patient to the doctor and the doctor to the patient. This is a problem when you are unsure of what is going on in your body or how to take your medications. The good news is that you can take control of your own health. Prevention is important.

You can take action now and decrease your risk for heart disease. If you smoke cigarettes, then anytime is a good time to quit. Start taking steps to lose weight such as increasing your intake of fruits and vegetables and decreasing your intake of fat and cholesterol. Eat more fresh foods and less from fast food restaurants. Have some sort of physical activity every day, even if it’s just going for walks. In addition to preventative measures, make sure that you are provided with all the necessary information for your health.
The Latino population is encouraged to ask healthcare professionals and nurses to provide educational information in Spanish, even if they speak some English. If Spanish is understood better, then important health information should be given in Spanish. Keep a list of your medications to give to any health care provider or if you must ever be hospitalized. Find out if you do indeed have any of the risk factors for heart disease and stroke. As always, a lack of insurance or inability to obtain adequate  healthcare or medications is an issue across all groups of people.  You still must always stay on top of your health.

However, if you do develop heart disease, be sure you know what to do. If you experience any chest pain then go to the emergency room immediately. It could worsen and cause damage to your heart. Chest pain can many times be mistaken for ingestion.  If you have frequent indigestion or indigestion unrelieved by antacids then seek care as it may be you are experiencing chest pain. Someone with heart disease also may experience pain in the jaw, neck, shoulder or left arm. 

Be aware of these symptoms as they could be serious and may need treatment by a doctor. Another sign that your heart may not be working right is getting short of breath or tired easily.     If that occurs, then check with your doctor. It is important to have a primary care physician or provider that can monitor your health and note any changes. Women also may experience “silent” symptoms of heart disease and it may portray as fatigue, nausea, or abdominal pain.

Bridget Brotzki is a Registered Nurse and has worked on various cardiac units. She is now pursuing a Family Nurse Practitioner degree at SUNY Upstate Medical University. She a member of SUNY Upstate’s Latino Medical Student Association, a national organization whose mission is to educate and advocate for the health needs of the Latino community. LMSA members, including herself, are looking forward to continuing to contribute to CNY Latino and raising awareness regarding the many health issues affecting the Latinos of Central NY and beyond.

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