Hispanic Women and Heart Disease 
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayer, tennis legend Rosie Casals, folksinger Joan Baez, astronaut Ellen Ochoa and actress Jennifer Lopez are all accomplished Hispanic women. They also have another thing in common. Because they are Latinas, they run a greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease than their Caucasian counterparts. Higher rates of high blood pressure, obesity, diabetes and metabolic syndrome are the main factors that drive this heart disease risk.

Heart disease and stroke account for more than 30 percent of all deaths among Hispanic females. Nearly 35 percent of Mexican-American women have cardiovascular disease. According to the American Heart Association, the heart disease risk for Latinas is comparable to the heart disease risk level of Caucasian women who are approximately 10 years older. Fortunately, all Hispanic women can significantly lower the threat of developing heart disease by leading a healthy lifestyle.

More than 12 percent of Latinas age 18 and older smoke. This puts them at increased risk for heart attack and stroke. Women who stop smoking can reduce their heart disease risk by more than 50 percent in about one year. Products and programs available that can help them stop smoking include nicotine patches and gums, support groups and smoking cessation programs.

Nearly 60 percent of Hispanic women 18 and older are not physically active. Regular exercise has been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease, high blood pressure, overweight and obesity, and diabetes. Thirty minutes of moderate-intensity activity such as walking briskly on most, if not all, days of the week is recommended.

Some Latino groups have especially high rates of diabetes, which increase the risk of heart disease. Approximately 65 percent of people with diabetes die due to heart or blood vessel disease. Diabetes can be detected with a blood sugar test and managed through diet, physical activity, diabetes pills or insulin shots.

Nearly two out of every three Hispanic women are overweight or obese. Being overweight not only raises the risk of heart disease, but also increases the chances of having a stroke, gallbladder disease, arthritis and certain cancers. Losing even a small amount of weight can help lower heart disease risk.

High blood pressure, which is a primary cause of heart disease and stroke, affects more than 28 percent of Mexican women over the age of 20. Stroke is the third leading cause of death for Hispanic women and also contributes significantly to long-term disability.  Eating a healthy diet, restricting salt in-take, engaging in regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight and limiting alcoholic beverages can help lower blood pressure. Blood pressure should be checked every one to two years.

Hispanic women also should have regular blood cholesterol and triglyceride tests. High levels of cholesterol can clog arteries, and elevated triglyceride levels are linked to heart disease in some people. Diet and exercise can help lower both; medication may be prescribed to help reduce cholesterol. For more information about heart disease and risk factor for Latinas, talk with your doctor or visit the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute website at www.nhlbi.nih.gov.

For a Physician Referral, call North Shore Medical Center at 1-800-984-3434.