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Black Americans With Common Heart Condition Face Double The Risk Of Stroke Compared To White People

Flickr user TheKarenD

Black Americans with the heart condition atrial fibrillation are nearly twice as likely to suffer stroke, heart failure and coronary heart disease as their white counterparts, according to a new study from University of Pittsburgh professor Jared Magnani.

The finding is based on data from a 30-year study of more than 15,000 people in four communities: Forsyth County, N.C.; Jackson, Miss.; suburbs northwest of Minneapolis, Minn. and Washington County, Md.

“Atrial fibrillation is the most commonly encountered clinical heart rhythm problem,” Magnani said. “The atria or the top chambers of the heart beat irregularly … This irregularity and chaotic heart rhythm causes blood to clot or pool inside the atrium (and) this can case a stroke.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, approximately 9 percent of Americans over age 65 have atrial fibrillation, or AFib. Magnani said one in four people will develop the condition by age 80.

The CDC also states on its website that “African Americans are less likely than those of European descent to have AFib” but Magnani said that could be due to under-diagnosis related to the underlying causes of broader health disparities between the two racial groups.

The study did not identify the cause of the disparity in adverse outcomes between black and white Americans with AFib, but Magnani said he does not believe it is due to biological or physiological differences. Rather, he said the disparity is likely due to systemic issues such as access to care, health literacy and the unconscious biases of providers.

Multiple studies have shown that blacks with atrial fibrillation are less likely to receive the essential anti-coagulation (drug) to reduce the likelihood of stroke,” he said. “That’s a clear example of a racial disparity.”

Magnani called the study a “first step” in acknowledging racial disparities in AFib patients.

“Now the fundamental work has to begin, which is to dissect the mechanisms and to begin to address those disparities,” he said.