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Ethn Dis. 2001 Fall;11(4):838-40.

Ethnic disparities in cardiovascular health.

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  • 1Clinical Research Center, Morehouse School of Medicine, Atlanta, Georgia 30310, USA.


Disparities in the cardiovascular outcomes of African-American patients is evident from national, regional, and local statistical data, as well as from the daily practice of medicine. This discussion highlights the complexity of ethnic disparities using a case-based approach with two typical cases from a cardiology practice. These cases underscore the complex interplay of the following factors in ethnic disparities. 1. Excess burden of cardiovascular risk factors in African Americans, with particular emphasis on high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, physical inactivity, and psychosocial stress. 2. Inadequate knowledge of how personal risk factors are directly linked to atherosclerosis and heart disease. 3. Cultural factors in symptom recognition and health-care seeking behavior. 4. Economic factors influencing access to health care including prevention, diagnosis, and treatment. 5. A combination of psychosocial stress, racism, and frustration leading to sub-optimal interactions with the health care system. 6. Genetics of disease and predisposition to vascular disease and atherosclerosis. We must come to terms with these fundamental factors in the causation and, therefore, the resolution of ethnic disparities in cardiovascular health. Successful strategies must include: 1) partnerships for long-term, sustainable, population-wide strategies on risk factor modification; 2) models of culturally competent health care delivery; and 3) research on the gene-environment interactions, which cause the susceptibility of ethnic minorities to cardiovascular disease.

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