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African-Americans Receive Less Aggressive Heart Attack Treatment

March 1, 2005 -- WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. – According to a study at the Maya Angelou Research Center on Minority Health at Wake Forest University Baptist Medical Center, African-Americans continue to receive less aggressive treatment for heart attack than whites.

Alain G. Bertoni, M.D., M.P.H., assistant professor of medicine at Wake Forest Baptist, and his colleagues found that nearly 60 percent of every 100 white patients received cardiac catheterization for treatment of heart attack compared to 50 percent of every 100 African-Americans. The study, "Racial and Ethnic Disparities in Cardiac Catheterization for Acute Myocardial Infarction in the United States, 1995-2001," is published in the March issue of the Journal of the National Medical Association (JNMA).

Bertoni's research team analyzed data from more than 660,000 patients in the United States who experienced a heart attack. In his findings, racial disparities were consistent across the country, regardless of the patient's gender or geographic location.

In addition, the team noted that rates of catheterization between Latinos/Hispanics and whites had grown more similar in recent years, erasing disparities that once existed. Bertoni noted that while disparities between African-Americans and whites are narrowing compared to earlier periods, the gap remains an important public health problem.

"Heart disease is a leading cause of illness and death in our country that disproportionately affects African-Americans," said Bertoni. "There is still work to be done to understand why this disparity exists.

"Severity of illnesses, patient and physician preferences may play some role, but there are no conclusive reasons for the disparity."

Bertoni states that patients' knowledge of treatment options may be one way to further ease disparities.

"If African-American patients are more informed, they can have improved dialogue with the medical team deciding how to care for them."

The study was supported by grants from the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, the American Heart Association and the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive Disorders.

The full text of the article can be viewed at the National Medical Association (NMA) Web site, www.nmanet.org, or through a direct link at www.nmanet.org/JMNA_Journal_Articles/OC317.pdf.

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