Heart Health for women of color

It’s officially American Heart Month and I had the pleasure of catching up with Dr. Maggie Cadet, Rheumatologist. Take a look at what she shared on women of color and heart health.

Share your background with our readers:
I’m a clinical board-certified rheumatologist, a physician who specializes in disorders affecting the musculoskeletal and immune systems. I’m here to raise awareness specifically about autoimmune diseases, arthritis, and other health conditions that disproportionately affect women and individuals in minority communities.  Since I was a little girl, I always knew that I had something to say.  I knew that I wanted to make a difference in this world. I had a few poignant experiences during my medical journey which led me to my specialty.  I have met so many inspiring individuals, especially minority females, who were battling conditions involving the immune system and their bone and joint systems. Most of these individuals were living with joint complaints and other symptoms like fatigue and stiffness affecting their everyday lives but had no idea that they carried a rheumatologic diagnosis.

My goal is to inspire all patients to take an active role in their disease management by first educating themselves about their diagnosis. I also encourage all individuals living with arthritis or autoimmune disease to engage in a healthy lifestyle. They should be aggressive about their treatment plan and follow-up care.

Lastly, I’m here to inspire younger females, especially minority females who hope to be leaders in the healthcare profession and serve their communities. The medical journey may be filled with obstacles and sacrifices but I want my female colleagues to know that it is important to overcome these struggles to “have a voice, be heard, and have a seat at the table”.

What are the number one illnesses women of color should be aware of?
In my field of Rheumatology, autoimmune diseases like Systemic Lupus Erythematosus, Sjogren’s Syndrome, and arthritis subtypes like Rheumatoid Arthritis and Osteoarthritis disproportionately affect minority populations at a greater rate and have higher morbidity and mortality for these individuals.  Studies have found that ethnic minority populations may be diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases much later than other races.  As a result minority patients are more likely to experience joint destruction, additional organ damage, fatigue, and other complications.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S. and more common in Black women than in females of other races, however, many Black women may not be aware that they are at higher risk for cardiac disease or the warning signs.  Women of color also are more likely to have risk factors associated with heart disease which may include Diabetes, High Cholesterol, High blood pressure, and Obesity.  Furthermore, autoimmune diseases such as Lupus and rheumatoid arthritis also have a higher risk of cardiac complications (heart disease).

Are there any warning signs?
It is important as women to be aware of our bodies and listen to what our bodies are telling us. Stay tuned to your intuition. We know when something is not right with our bodies. Symptoms of autoimmune diseases may mimic so many other illnesses. Warning signs for autoimmune diseases may include:

  • Overwhelming, chronic or debilitating fatigue for more than few weeks
  • Joint pain, swelling, redness or stiffness for several weeks and interfering with daily lfie
  • Unexplained fevers
  • Rashes or excessive skin tightening
  • Muscle pain
  • Chest pain or shortness of breath
  • Neurological symptoms like persistent headaches, numbness, 
  • seizures, “brain fog”
  • Any change in urine color, frequency or elg/facial swelling
  • Sensitivity to the sun
  • Color changes in fingers or toes due to cold (Raynaud symptoms)
  • Any eye redness, pain or changes in vision

It is important to seek a consultation for a physician to diagnose an autoimmune disease or inflammatory arthritis early because these diseases may have complications such as organ inflammation sometimes resulting in organ failure and death.

Why should women see a Rheumatologist?
It is extremely important that any woman sees a rheumatologist for an evaluation if she experiences joint pain or any of the symptoms listed above to establish a diagnosis quickly to prevent further complications from inflammation of the joints and other organs such as the heart, lungs, kidneys, nerves, and eyes.  Heart disease is a major complication of some autoimmune diseases.  Other comorbidities may include Obesity, Diabetes, Osteoporosis (low bone density), and Depression.

Your take on the disparities in healthcare?

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed some unsettling facts about the healthcare system.  Minority populations may be diagnosed with autoimmune diseases later (several months to years) compared to the Caucasian population. Delayed diagnosis may lead to delayed treatment and more organ and joint complications.  These minority populations may also be less likely to be started on aggressive treatments when they are first diagnosed.  

Minority females may also have symptoms of cardiac disease that may also be dismissed more often.  There are socioeconomic divides that exist. 

Other factors affecting the medical care of these populations may include lack of adequate healthcare insurance benefits, unconscious or implicit bias by certain healthcare providers which affect the patient-physician relationship, lack of educational resources and reduced access to centers of diagnostic imaging and preventative services.

There needs to be a CALL TO ACTION to pay more attention to the care system that is fractured for many minority populations.  

It is important that providers in the healthcare system reflect and acknowledge if any unconscious or conscious bias exists to improve patient communication and give minority populations the care that they deserve. It is important for physicians like myself to continue to educate and help with informed decision-making involved in the prevention and treatment of medical conditions.

Thank you Dr. Cadet for your insight and wisdom.

Dr. Maggie Cadet’s Contact Information

Website:  www.maggiecadetmd.com

Email: maggiecadet@gmail.com

Social Media Handles:  @drmaggiecadet

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