Home Am I at Risk? Race, Ethnicity, and Heart Failure

Race, Ethnicity, and Heart Failure

The terms "race" and "ethnicity" are shorthand for people of similar cultural, religious, tribal, or geographic ancestry. One of the difficulties of tracking health differences by race is that racial groups are defined in many different ways. Click here for more detailed information on how racial and ethnic groups are classified.

How common is heart failure in women of different racial or ethnic groups?

African-American women have a higher risk of heart failure than do women of other races. Compared with white and Hispanic women, African-American women are 50% to 60% more likely to develop heart failure and to do so at a younger age.1-3


Does race or ethnicity predict what type of heart failure I am likely to have?

Women of all races are more likely to develop blood-filling problems (diastolic heart failure) than blood-pumping problems (systolic heart failure).15-18 Researchers think this is because of the way women’s hearts respond to conditions that cause the heart to work harder to pump out blood, such as high blood pressure. Compared with men, a woman’s heart muscle wall tends to thicken more. Over time, the thickened heart muscle becomes stiff and the heart is unable to relax and expand to fill with enough blood, resulting in blood-filling problems than can lead to diastolic heart failure.

The heart’s response to high blood pressure also differs by race. Research shows that in African Americans the heart’s main pumping chamber is 2 to 3 times more likely to thicken or stretch in response to the strain of high blood pressure than it does in white Americans.12 This combination of gender and race may explain why African-American women are at the highest risk for heart failure.

Click here for more information on the different forms of heart failure.

Why are women of certain racial or ethnic groups at a higher risk for heart failure?

Women of certain racial or ethnic groups are more likely to have some risk factors that increase their risk of heart failure. African-American women are at the highest risk for heart failure compared with women of other races because they are much more likely to have high blood pressure and diabetes, both strong risk factors for heart failure.2, 4 A study of nearly 7000 (53% were women) racially diverse adults found that when high blood pressure and diabetes are taken into account, the risk differences among racial groups almost disappears.5

Heart Failure Risk Factors in Women By Race

Next: Race & Heart Failure Risk Factors

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