Despite treatment advances for coronary heart disease over the past 20 years, black men and women still have twice the risk of fatal coronary heart disease compared with white men and women, according to a study from the University of Alabama at Birmingham appearing in the Nov. 7, 2012 issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association.
Most of this disparity may be due to greater risk factor burden among blacks — including smoking, diabetes and hypertension — suggesting that it could be eliminated with better risk factor control, the researchers say. The study is being released early online to coincide with the American Heart Association Scientific Sessions being held in Los Angeles from Nov. 3-7.
Coronary heart disease rates in the United States have steadily declined since the 1970s for all racial groups. But UAB researchers analyzing death certificate information and other data from four U.S. cities found a steeper decline between 2000 and 2008 in acute coronary heart disease deaths for whites than for blacks, actually widening the longstanding disparity. Data from Kaiser Permanente suggests that hospitalizations for heart attacks between 2002 and 2007 declined greatly, but more so for whites than for blacks.
"During the time period since the last reports on the incidence of heart disease, two things happened - statins came into wider use to manage coronary heart disease, and blood tests to detect heart attacks became more sensitive, enabling physicians to identify much smaller cardiac events," says the study's lead author, Monika M. Safford, M.D., professor in the UAB Division of Preventive Medicine. "However, prior to our study, there were no data on how these two advances have impacted racial and sex differences in coronary heart disease rates."
Safford and colleagues looked at data from the NIH-funded Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke (REGARDS) study to examine total coronary heart disease rates, fatal coronary heart disease rates and nonfatal coronary heart disease rates among blacks and whites, and among men and women. They analyzed whether risk factors for coronary heart disease were associated with the observed differences in risks by race and sex. They also analyzed the effect of very small heart attacks on these differences. All of this was part of their effort to determine if racial differences continue to persist and, if so, to identify possible causes.