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More than a Global Risk: Heart Disease in South Asian Communities

For a very, very long time, heart disease has been the leading cause of death in America. As

such, lots of research has been done around heart disease, who is most susceptible to it, and ways to keep it under control or avoid it for those who are at high risk. It is well known that

individuals who come from historically marginalized socioeconomic communities have a greater risk for heart disease. For example, African Americans are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than non-Hispanic whites and are also more likely to have their high blood pressure under control (Heart Disease, n.d.). However, many people tend to overlook a shocking truth about heart disease within the South Asian community—South Asians in the U.S. are more likely to die from heart disease than the general population and have increased risk factors in comparison with other populations.

Despite making up only 25 percent of the world’s population, South Asians account for 60

percent of heart disease patients (Krishnan, 2019). South Asians also experience heart disease at much younger ages than the general population. 50 percent of heart attacks among South Asians occur under the age of 50, and South Asians develop coronary heart disease around 10 years earlier than the general population (Stanford South, n.d.). Surprisingly, this increased susceptibility to heart disease is not shared with other Asian subgroups. South Asians have a higher risk of heart disease than other Asian subgroups, especially East Asians.

Studies have found that this increased risk may be due to a number of factors, primarily, how

South Asians store fat and the widespread risk of diabetes. A study done by Mediators of

Atherosclerosis in South Asians Living in America, MASALA, found that South Asians tend to

retain a lot of visceral fat in the abdominal region, regardless of body mass index. Accumulation of visceral fat causes different kinds of inflammation that can contribute to various heart diseases (Krishnan, 2019). Retention of visceral fat in the abdomen can also help explain the heightened risk of diabetes in the South Asian community. Diabetes doubles the risk of heart disease in patients of all backgrounds. Diet and activity levels throughout the South Asian community may also play a role.

Although we have learned much about heart disease in the South Asian community, there is still much more research that needs to be done. Current public health knowledge around heart disease does not take into consideration South Asians’ heightened risk as such many South Asians are not given proper guidance by medical professionals on how to lower their risk of heart disease. Further research on heart disease in South Asian communities is necessary in order for medical professionals to serve all of their patients best and provide them with the guidance they need.



Heart disease and African Americans. (n.d.). U.S. Department of Health and Human

Services Office of Minority Health.


Krishnan, S., MD, RPVI, FACC. (2019, May 17). South Asians and cardiovascular

disease: The hidden threat. American College of Cardiology.


Stanford South Asian Translational Heart Initiative. (n.d.). Stanford Health





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