Greensboro's African American Community Newspaper since 1967

Show Your Heart Some Love!


Taking care of one’s heart is essential. African Americans suffer and die from heart disease at a 20 percent higher rate than Whites Taking care of one’s heart is essential. African Americans suffer and die from heart disease at a 20 percent higher rate than Whites[/caption]

Even though we talk about it all year long, Heart disease remains the leading cause of death in the United States and the second leading cause of death in North Carolina. Did you know that each year, more than 600,000 people in the U.S. die as a result of heart disease? In North Carolina, more than 25,000 people died as a result of heart disease in 2015, accounting for almost 30 percent of all deaths, and more than 5,300 of those deaths were African Americans. Alarmingly, African Americans suffer and die from heart disease at a 20 percent higher rate than Whites.


What is Heart Disease?

In order to understand heart disease, we first have to understand how our heart works. Your heart has four chambers -- two upper chambers (left and right atria) and two lower chambers (left and right ventricles). The right side of the heart pumps blood to the lungs through the pulmonary arteries to collect oxygen, and the left side of the heart pumps the oxygenated (with oxygen) blood through the aorta out into your body. The heart has valves that temporarily close to limit blood flow to only one direction. The valves are located between the atria and ventricles, and between the ventricles and the major vessels from the heart. Heart disease is defined as any illness that affects the heart's ability to function normally. Heart disease is also known as cardiovascular disease, coming from the words “cardia” referring to the heart, and “vascular” referring to the arteries and blood vessels that carry blood throughout your body.

Heart Disease Vocabulary

There are many terms that are used when talking about heart disease and problems associated with it, but they are not often explained in layman’s terms. Adapted from the National Institutes of Health and the American Heart Association, we have prepared a mini-glossary of heart disease terms below.

Angina – A type of chest discomfort or pain caused by inadequate blood flow through the blood vessels of the heart muscle.

Arrhythmia – An arrhythmia is any disorder of your heart rate or heart rhythm, such as beating too fast, too slow or irregularly. This occurs when the electrical impulse that signals the parts of your heart to contract in a synchronized manner is interrupted.

Atherosclerosis – A disease that occurs when fatty material and a substance called plaque builds up on the walls of your arteries.

Congestive Heart Failure (CHF) – happens when the heart can no longer pump enough blood to the rest of the body. Heart failure is almost always a chronic, long-term condition, although it can develop suddenly. This condition may affect the right side, the left side or both sides of the heart.

Coronary Artery Disease (CAD) – is a narrowing of the small blood vessels that supply blood and oxygen to the heart. CAD is usually caused by atherosclerosis. As the coronary arteries narrow, blood flow to the heart can slow down or stop, causing chest pain (stable angina), shortness of breath, heart attack, and other symptoms.

Heart Attack – A heart attack occurs when low blood flow causes the heart to starve for oxygen. Heart muscle dies or becomes permanently damaged. Most heart attacks are caused by a blood clot that blocks one of the coronary arteries. The coronary arteries bring blood and oxygen to the heart. If the blood flow is blocked, the heart starves for oxygen, and heart cells die.

Heart Murmur – a blowing, whooshing or rasping sound produced by unstable blood flow through the heart valves or near the heart.

Risk Factors for Heart Disease?

There are two types of risk factors for heart disease: controllable risk factors, and non-controllable risk factors. Non-controllable risk factors include: age (being 50 years old or older) and having a family history of heart disease, especially if your relative had it before age 55. Controllable risk factors for heart disease include having hypertension (high blood pressure), high cholesterol, and/or diabetes; being obese; being sedentary (lacking physical activity); and smoking.

What can I do to protect my heart if I have these risk factors?

  1. Control your blood pressure.
  2. Keep your cholesterol in check.
  3. Control your diabetes.
  4. Control your weight.
  5. Get active!
  6. Stop smoking and/or avoid secondhand smoke.

Medications and Procedures

There are a variety of heart medications you can take to treat or prevent heart disease. These drugs lower your blood pressure, reduce the level of cholesterol in your blood, or help your body get rid of excess fluids that affect your heart's ability to pump blood. There are also devices that can be used, such as a pacemaker, a small device that sends electrical impulses to the heart muscle to maintain a correct heart rate and rhythm.

Pprotecting your heart by living a healthy lifestyle and being aware of your risk factors is essential, along with having regular checkups with your doctor. Show your heart some love so it can love you for many years to come.

Do you need further information or have questions or comments about this article? Check out the American Heart Association at For more information about the Maya Angelou Center for Health Equity, please visit our Web site: