Changing Lifestyles, Changing Habits: Enlarged Heart, High Blood Pressure, and Race
Recent news has revealed that African-Americans are two to
three times more likely than Caucasians to have an enlarged heart. An enlarged
heart is also called left ventricular hypertrophy, or LVH. The condition occurs
because the heart’s left pumping chamber has to work harder than normal to pump
This information comes out of the Dallas Heart Study. Each
study participant had an extensive medical history taken, blood pressure
measured, a cardiac MRI (a test that reveals images of internal parts of the
body) to measure the mass of the heart’s left ventricle and an assessment of
their body composition. Participants’ socioeconomic situations were also
assessed. There had been previous studies showing that African-Americans are at
increased risk for LVH, but those studies had not used MRIs to evaluate the
When researchers looked at study participants who had
similar body mass, the African-Americans still had higher rates of LVH. In other
words, in groups of people who were equally overweight, African-Americans had
higher LVH rates, meaning that being overweight itself didn’t account for the
increase in LVH.
After looking at all the study data, researchers determined
that high blood pressure was the cause of the higher LVH rate in among
African-Americans. LVH greatly increases the risk of heart problems such as
Why is heart failure serious?
When you have heart failure, your heart can’t work hard enough to pump blood
through your body. As the blood flow in your body slows down, fluid can leak
into your lungs and other tissue.
Most of the time, people don’t notice heart failure
symptoms until the condition has been present for quite a while—sometimes even
years. That’s because your heart adjusts to the pumping difficulties by becoming
larger, by strengthening its muscle fibers and by contracting more frequently.
These adjustments can delay the symptoms, but eventually, the heart cannot keep
up, and the symptoms of heart failure appear.
What are the symptoms?
One of the most common signs of heart failure is shortness
of breath. This is caused by excess fluid in the lungs. It can happen when
you’re at rest or when you’re exercising. Other signs include:
- Sudden weight gain
- Swelling in the legs or ankles
- Swelling or pain in the abdomen
- Trouble sleeping, and waking up short of breath
- Dry, hacking cough
- Loss of appetite
- Feeling tired all the time
Controlling high blood pressure is important
Hypertension is a leading cause of heart disease, stroke, heart failure and
kidney failure. If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension, it’s important to
work aggressively to bring your blood pressure down. If your doctor has
prescribed medication for you, take that seriously. Stick with the drugs, and if
for any reason you feel like you don’t want to keep taking your pills, be sure
to talk with your doctor about it. Don’t ever stop medications on your own.
You can also help control your blood pressure by eating the
right diet and by getting regular exercise. For more detailed information about
how your food intake affects your blood pressure, read, “How to Eat to Lower
Your Blood Pressure.”
If you haven’t seen your doctor recently, there’s no better
time to go than now. Have your blood pressure checked, because remember, high
blood pressure doesn’t cause symptoms. The sooner you detect the problem, the
better your chances of avoiding problems like heart failure in the future.
Read about the heart failure initiative at
Healthcare Partners here.
The American Heart
Association; Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, June 2005;
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute