Heart Disease – Difference in risk based on Age, Sex, Gender and Race
One comforting fact about heart disease is that most of the factors that cause it are factors that you as an individual can exert some control over. However, there are two big risk factors that you can’t control – your demographic characteristics and your family history.
The word demographic means “a segment of the human population.” Demographic can involve several characteristics, including age, gender and race. Studies have shown that different demographics have different risks of heart disease.
So…who is at risk? As far as gender goes, men are the biggest losers here. Men have a greater risk of both developing and dying from heart disease at an earlier age then women. That’s not to imply that heart disease is not a serious problem for women as well…it definitely is! But, women’s death rate from heart disease does not start to exceed the male death rate from heart disease until after the age 65. However, heart attacks are more likely to be misdiagnosed in women because they often have atypical symptoms – nausea, vomiting and fatigue instead of chest pain, for example.
Once a heart attack happens, women as a group have poorer survival rates and poorer outcomes. Some women’s rights groups say that the disparity is due primarily to women being under treated. That may be part of the problem, but no doubt part of the disparity results from women having heart attacks at a more advanced age then men.
As far as age goes,younger people have a lower risk of heart disease. For example, over 83% of deaths caused by heart disease happen in people over the age of 65. However, coronary artery disease is a long-term illness. Don’t feel invulnerable just because you are under 65. The habits you develop now can either cause heart disease in the future or help protect you from it.
Race is another demographic factor that can raise you risk of heart disease. For example, the American Heart Association estimates that approximately 40% of African Americans are afflicted with some form of heart disease. For Latinos, the figure is 25%. In recent years, heart disease has also become a serious problem among Native Americans. Historically speaking, it was almost unheard of in this population. However, it is now the leading cause of death in this group.
Nobody is quite sure what causes these variations. It could be a genetic variation that is widely shared among people withe the same ethnicity. However, these variations could also be due to differences in diet, smoking habits, and access to preventative healthcare.
IS IT ALL IN THE FAMILY?
You may have inherited your father’s eyes and your mother’s smile. But could you also have inherited their risk of heart disease? Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your family history, there is also a genetic component to your risk of heart disease. For example, a study done by scientists at John Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland showed that siblings of people with heart disease show an increased risk of getting heart disease themselves over the next 10 years.
The increased risk was highest for males. Brothers who had a sibling develop any form of heart disease had a 10 percent greater than normal chance of developing heart disease themselves. For sisters, the increase in risk was 7 percent. Genetic factors appear to play a role in how your body manufactures cholesterol and how likely your arteries are to harden and develop plaque.
However, just because heart disease runs in the family doesn’t mean that you are doomed to experience it yourself. Instead, knowing that relatives suffer from heart disease can be seen as a warning that should lead you to look over your lifestyle for risk factors for heart disease. Even for people with a genetic component, there is usually a lifestyle factor as well. Bad heart genes increase the risk of heart disease developing in response to lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. It’s possible to reduce or even cancel out the effect of genetics. You just have to be willing to take extra care of yourself. In the chapter on prevention, we will look at some strategies to help you do just that.
What about congenital heart defects? Once you’ve had one baby with a heart defect, you do have a higher than usual chance of having another baby with a similar problem. This is because some heart defects are inherited. However, many are not. If your child’s heart defect is not caused by genetics, you should be able to conceive again without any worries. Unfortunately, genetic science is still somewhat in its infancy. So, for some heart defects, a clear hereditary link has been established. However, for others, scientists simply are not sure.
The best way to find out about your risk of conceiving another child with a congenital heart defect is simply talk to your doctor. He or she will be able to give you more information about your individual situation. Your doctor may also refer you to another specialist for genetic testing and counseling, if applicable.