Blacks Suffer More Early Heart Failure

By Mike Stobbe
Associated Press
Tuesday, March 24, 2009

One in 100 black men and women develop heart failure before age 50, according to one of the first long-term studies to look at the life-threatening condition in younger adults.

The research, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests blacks in that age group suffer the condition at a rate 20 times that of whites. However, the findings are based on a very small number of cases, the authors said, so more study is needed.

Heart failure, which occurs when the heart loses its ability to pump sufficient blood through the body, is often fatal.

"Usually this is a disease of the elderly," said Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, a physician who is one of the study's authors. "When this disease happens in 30- and 40-year-olds, it's quite dramatic."

The researchers looked at data from more than 5,100 people who were ages 18 to 30 at the time they joined the study more than 20 years ago. Over the years, 27 people developed heart failure by age 50, all but one of them black. Five died, all of them black.

At the outset, blood pressure levels and weights were similar regardless of race, said Bibbins-Domingo, an epidemiologist at the University of California at San Francisco.

But the researchers found that a disproportionate number of blacks developed high blood pressure in young adulthood and went on to suffer heart failure. Blacks also were more likely to develop diabetes and chronic kidney disease, and to suffer an impairment in the heart muscle's ability to contract.

Researchers told those who received a diagnosis of high blood pressure to see their doctors about it. But 10 years into the study, the condition was untreated or poorly controlled in three out of four black patients who had received the diagnosis.

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