As you plan to have that conversation, here’s a big thing to consider: While your personal choices can certainly lower your risk of negative outcomes, Dr. Morgan emphasizes the impact that social determinants of health (SDOH), a.k.a. aspects of your surroundings and communities that influence your well-being, can have on your lifestyle. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, SDOH include not only economic stability, but also access to quality education, safe housing, transportation, and quality health care.
Another major SDOH is marginalization itself. The constant wear and tear of racism can lead to weathering, which is the physiological toll that chronic stress takes on the body. This can exacerbate cardiometabolic conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease3. All of this is to say that simply “making good decisions” about heart health isn’t as easy for some of us—especially if we’re encountering barriers like these ones. And if your doctor doesn’t bring up your daily habits or these bigger social factors, it’s a good idea to be prepared to raise them yourself.
2. “How can my reproductive health affect my heart?”
If you’re planning to become pregnant, ask your doctor to help you make a plan about how to look after your heart throughout. According to the March of Dimes, one in three pregnancy-related deaths can be tied to heart disease or stroke. Up to one year postpartum, cardiomyopathy is the leading cause of death among people who have given birth. Given that Black people already face higher heart health risks even before pregnancy and childbirth, it’s all the more reason to make it a focus of your conversation.
In the case that you’ve already been pregnant or given birth, talk to a doctor about what your medical experience was like along the way. Many Black people face serious complications, like gestational diabetes, life-threatening preeclampsia, and eclampsia, at higher rates than white people do, inequities that research suggests are related to medical racism.4
Cardiological care should become a part of your health journey long-term once you’ve given birth, according to Dr. Morgan. “After your baby’s born, follow up with a cardiologist not just for one or two visits, but for life, because your risk of heart disease over your lifetime will be twice that of any woman who did not have those particular complications from pregnancy,” she says.5 As you get rolling with making this a focus after your delivery, she recommends following up with a cardiologist for a discussion about heart disease prevention, specifically.
3. “Am I a good candidate for clinical trials, and if so, which ones might be available to me?”
Some Black Americans have an understandably fraught relationship with clinical trials, especially considering the historical context of the Tuskegee Project in the US. But Dr. Morgan encourages people with pre-existing heart conditions to learn more about contemporary clinical trials, which have come a long way—and can offer opportunities for extra health monitoring and, potentially, effective treatment or intervention. Participation can be a way to help yourself and ensure that trials are done on a more diverse group of people.