The higher rate of heart disease among Hispanic women may be connected to their higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

We’ve long known about the differing frequency of heart disease in the U.S. among African-Americans and Hispanics as compared to non-Hispanic whites. But what are the reasons for these differences?

According to a recent Brigham and Women’s Hospital study, the higher rate of heart disease among Hispanic women may be connected to their higher risk of developing metabolic syndrome.

Metabolic syndrome includes the presence of four key heart health factors: high blood pressure, increased blood sugar levels, excessive body fat, and abnormal cholesterol levels. Together, these factors lead to an increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes.

The study, lead Dr. Fatima Rodriguez, a resident in Internal Medicine, and Dr. JoAnne Foody, Medical Director of the Cardiovascular Wellness Service, drew upon data from the health screenings of nearly 7,000 women in 17 U.S. cities. From that population, 40% of Hispanic women and 39% of African-American women were determined to have metabolic syndrome, as compared to 31% of non-Hispanic white women. Hispanic women had the highest rates of metabolic syndrome across all age categories, with older Hispanic women being at the greatest risk. Along with Hispanic ethnicity and advancing age, smoking also was found to be a significant predictor of developing metabolic syndrome.

The higher occurrence of metabolic syndrome in Hispanic women seems to be largely built on abnormal (unhealthy) fat levels in the bloodstream, with many Hispanic women tending to have high triglyceride levels and low HDL levels. In African-American women, on the other hand, waist circumference and high blood pressure appear to be the drivers of high metabolic syndrome rates.

Although the study didn’t address why Hispanic women are more likely to develop metabolic syndrome, it did find that about 65% of the Hispanic women in the study either had no insurance or were underinsured. And such limited access doesn’t bode well for preventing the development of heart disease risk factors.

Yet, regardless of the origin of the risks, there are things that anyone can do to prevent or control metabolic syndrome, including:

  • Lose weight by reducing calorie intake and exercising at least 30 minutes per day
  • Lower cholesterol levels by eating more fruits and vegetables
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Quit smoking

Do you have any other tips for people who are trying to help lower their heart disease risk?

Visit our Center for Cardiovascular Disease in Women site for resources that address the special heart health needs of women.

– Chris P

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