Study to delve into heart disease in black community
Share with others:
While giving a presentation about heart disease in the Hill District in 2009, Indu Poornima was taken aback by what she heard from people in attendance.
"There was a lack of awareness that heart disease is a major killer, and there was a lack of awareness of the risk factors for heart disease," said the director of nuclear cardiology at Allegheny General Hospital and program director for the hospital's Cardiology Fellowship Program.
At the time, she said, she thought the high rates of heart disease among African Americans in the Pittsburgh region could be associated with socioeconomic and dietary factors.
That experience inspired Dr. Poornima to launch a $100,000 study, funded by the Pittsburgh Foundation, to better understand why African Americans in the Pittsburgh region tend to have a higher incidence and mortality rates for heart attacks, heart failure and stroke when compared to the national average.
The Epidemiological Study of Cardiovascular Risk in Urban African Americans will examine the prevalence of nine modifiable risk factors for cardiovascular disease in the local African-American population.
Those factors include abnormal lipids, or fats, in the blood; smoking; hypertension; diabetes; abdominal obesity; psychosocial factors; level of fruits, vegetables and alcohol in the diet; and lack of regular physical activity.
Researchers also will seek correlations between risk factors, social factors and coronary artery calcification -- one measure of atherosclerotic heart disease. Another factor to consider in future studies, she said, is the impact of air pollution on African-American health in the region.
"African Americans in Allegheny County have higher death rates from heart disease than those in the rest of the state and other ethnic groups," Dr. Poornima said.
In Allegheny County, for example, 96 or 97 people out of every 100,000 die of heart disease in the general population. But the rate for African Americans is 134 to 138 deaths per 100,000.
"If you get closer to Philadelphia, the statistics are even worse for African Americans" based on statewide mortality rates, she said, noting the highest rates in the state, based on U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data, occur in an area near Harrisburg and in Bucks and Montgomery counties.
"But we come close behind," she said of Allegheny County.
For the two-year study, Dr. Poornima is seeking to enroll 250 African Americans between of the ages 40 to 70 who have no prior history of heart attack, congestive heart failure or stroke. For more information about the study, call 412-359-3802.
Participants will complete a questionnaire and undergo a physical examination by a physician and laboratory testing including assessments of fasting blood sugar and high-sensitivity C-reactive protein to measure inflammation, with additional tests to measure the standard cholesterol panel, apolipoproteins and triglyceride levels.
They also will be given a non-contrast CT heart scan to check for calcium buildup in the arteries.
She said early medical intervention is the best weapon against heart disease.
Data from the study will be used to help identify interventions that can be used to improve the risk profile for African Americans in Pittsburgh and surrounding communities.
"We want to define the true prevalence of risk factors in our local population and see how those risk factors are influenced by socioeconomic factors such as income, education and health insurance coverage," Dr. Poornima said.
First Published October 1, 2011 12:00 am