A Huge Breakthrough in Black Heart Disease?

Researchers in South Carolina believe they may have discovered one of the reasons behind why Blacks die from heart attacks more often.

Posted: 06/28/2011 05:07 PM EDT

 

(Photo: Ware/Landov)

For decades now we’ve known that Blacks suffer disproportionately from things like hypertension and HIV. We also know that Blacks are likely to die of things like heart disease at rates higher than their white counterparts. Sometimes these disparities are due to factors like diet and societal pressure—one theory, for instance, says African-American hypertension is linked to racism—but might some of them have to do with inherent Black traits, too?

 

According to a new study out of the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston, African-Americans are more likely to have a specific kind of plaque that causes heart attacks. The plaque is called “non-calcified plaque,” and it can build up in the arteries and become deadly.

 

“For a long time, physicians have searched for explanations as to why African Americans have higher rates of heart disease and higher cardiac death rates, but less coronary artery calcium than Caucasians," said the study’s co-author, Dr. U. Joseph Schoepf, in a press release. "We show that one possible explanation for the discrepancy may be found in the higher rate of less stable, non-calcified plaque in the heart vessels of African-Americans."

 

Dr. Schoepf said his research showed non-calcified plaque was found in 64 percent of Black patients, compared to 41 percent of whites. On the other hand, whites were more likely to have calcified plaque than Blacks at a rate of 41 percent to 26 percent.

 

While it’s great news that physicians have discovered this difference, that it took so long is a testament to how geared toward the white body medicine is. The reason it took so long to discover this difference is because the standard calcium exams never checked for non-calcified plaque. One wonders how many African-American lives have been lost due to that oversight.

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