Studies Examine Genetic, Environmental Factors Involved in Heart Failure
The Baltimore Sun on Sunday examined two studies by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine finding that African-Americans might be at greater risk of heart failure than other ethnic groups because of environmental and genetic factors. Both studies were based on the Multi-Ethnic Study of Arteriosclerosis, a long-term cardiovascular health study being conducted in six communities across the U.S. The project, which began in 2000 and will continue through 2008, tracks the cardiovascular health of nearly 7,000 men and women between ages 45 and 84. One of the studies used magnetic resonance imaging to compare the strength of heart muscle contractions among different racial groups. According to the study, Chinese-Americans on average had the strongest and fastest contractions, followed by Caucasians and Hispanics. African-Americans had the weakest contractions, by 1% to 3%. Veronica Fernandes, a postdoctoral researcher at Johns Hopkins, said the study suggests that heart failure might be explained in part by genetics, "a conclusion questioned by other scientists, who say race is a poor proxy for genetic heritage," the Sun reports. The other study found that African-Americans were nearly twice as likely to have heart failure as Caucasians and nearly five times as likely as Chinese-Americans. Hossein Bahrami, a cardiology fellow at Johns Hopkins who worked on the study, said high rates of diabetes and high blood pressure among African-Americans likely contribute to the increased risk of heart disease. He added, "Maybe African-Americans don't receive the proper management after a heart attack, and that leads to heart failure." James Porterfield, chief of cardiology at Greater Baltimore Medical Center, said, "There are some intriguing race-related issues," adding, "There are clearly both environmental factors and genetic factors, but there is a lot to be learned." Lawrence Brody, a human geneticist at the National Human Genome Research Center, said, "Race is a social construct. People who are of African descent are more genetically diverse than people of European descent." Brody said socioeconomic issues are a more likely cause of the health disparity (Emery, Baltimore Sun, 4/1).This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.