Black Women Talk To Black Women About Heart Health

We’re participating in the Blog Carnival ( & Twitter Storm) to Protect Health Equity Programs in the Budget Fight. Budget provisions in the Affordable Care Act fund community health centers as well as HHS which is responsible for several initiatives to improve health equity. This social media campaign is an appropriate culmination to Minority Health Month and the ongoing challenge to eliminate health disparities, so enBloom wanted to do their part to stand up #4OurHealth.

Last weekend, I had the pleasure to participate as an exhibitor in Know Thyself, Love Thyself the 2nd Annual Health Expo hosted by the Potomac Chapter of The Links, Incorporated. I must say it is one of the best events I’ve worked this year. The focus of the panel discussion was the unique ways in which heart disease presents in black women, why disparities remain in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease in our population.   As a health educator, it’s my job is to stay informed and up to date on these issues, so I was surprised to discover how much I learned during this event.

Heart Attack At Age 36

Jennifer Donelan a broadcast journalist from WJLA (an ABC affiliate in the metropolitan Washington, DC market) stepped to the podium as the workshop’s facilitator to speak. Soon, she became a little tearful. Having suffered a heart attack while completing her workday in September 2010, she was the subject of the video health expo participants had just viewed. For Donelan, this cautionary tale to women, especially black woman of the importance of understanding the risk factors for heart disease and recognizing the warning signs for a heart attack was personal.  It was her story. One that she was eager to share with other women with the hope that they might avoid the heart attack that she had not.

A panel of three black women, each experts in their respective fields proceed to address the issues related to heart disease.  The first presentation was from a cardiologist in private practice. Patricia Davison, MD discussed the etiology (the cause), the pathology (what goes wrong), the epidemiolgy (who gets sick) and the diagnosis of heart disease. She used research results and plain language to present her case in a compelling manner. Her presentation was so full of great information, it was a challenge for me to keep up with her.  The highlights I pushed to twitter crystallized her talk into it’s most basic message.

Denia Tapscott, MD an internist who specializes in Bariatric medicine as Director of the Howard University Center for Wellness and Weight Loss Surgery was the next presenter. She provided a common sense approach to food and diet. Her discussion focused on portion control and misconceptions that lead us to consume more calories that we realize on a daily basis.  Following are some of the high points of her talk that I pushed to twitter.

A Superwoman Gets Help For Her Stress

The portion of the workshop with which I was most impressed was the discussion of stress. Perhaps, this is because it is the topic that is least explored especially as it manifest itself in the black community.  Kimberly Campbell, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in private practice used a powerful “pop-up” activity to help the audience identify stress in all forms. “If you just had an argument with your teenager or if you have a teenage child at all, pop-up.” Workshop participants stood. “If you’re planning a big celebration for your family, pop-up.” Most of those standing sat down as others to whom the scenario applied stood up. “If you had a positive conversation with your spouse today, pop up.” The point of Dr. Campbell’s exercise was to illustrate that positive life events as well as negative one’s can cause physiological changes in our bodies. Collectively, these changes are referred to as stress.

The cardiologist, Dr. Davidson had perviously explained in her talk how chronic inflammation is a risk factor for heart disease and underscored her point with the comment, “[Prolonged exposure to] acetylcholine kills.” Now, Dr. Campbell was showing some of those causes of the stress that can place us in a state of chronic inflammation. Although she didn’t use the term, piece by piece she broke down many of those behaviors that define the archeitypal Black Superwoman and compared them to common symptoms of stress. The subtext of her talk was an appeal to black women to recognized the toll that their mental health takes on their physical health.

Health Expo: Formal name 4 having (emotional) baggage = residual stress; 4 your health…learn how 2 let it go #minorityhealth — Alisa Hughley, MPH (@enBloomMedia) April 20, 2013

Sister To Sister

There was power in having the health messages delivered by individuals who looked like that audience. It gave the expo the feel of girlfriend’s getting together to dish and shoot the “ish” rather than one of judgmental criticism or preaching from someone who couldn’t possibly understand. Hat tip to the Potomac Chapter of The Links, Inc. Heart disease is the number one killer of women and it kills more women than the remaining top 10 killers combined. Do you know your numbers?  The measurement of your waist in inches, BMI (body mass index), blood pressure, total cholesterol and fasting blood glucose levels are all important numbers to know because they predict your risk for heart disease.

A Message For Deaf Ears

This event was free and open to the public.  It was well attended but the venue was not filled to it’s capacity. What can we do to encourage broader participation from the community in these events?  What would bring you out on a Saturday morning for fellowship, free-stuff and good information to help you make your life a little better? I want to hear what you have to say. Leave a comment and let me know. Maybe reluctance to attend a health expo is because you still aren’t sure you’re ready (or able) to make that change? Check out the powerful documentary by the Association of Black Cardiologists, Before You Eat The Church Food, Watch This Video. It just might help change your mind.

Other Resources:

Additional coverage of Ms. Donelan’s heart attack. More heart smart tools at The Heart Truth and Million Hearts.



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