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Blacks more than twice as likely as whites to suffer sudden cardiac arrest

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A new study finds blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to suffer sudden cardiac arrest, a condition in which the heart suddenly stops beating.

Phyllis Whiteside's heart has stopped beating three different times.

"Horrifying. At the time, it wasn't, but the aftermath 'cause when it happens, you really don't know that it's happening," Whiteside said.

She was fortunate. Her life was saved by an implanted defibrillator, a device she got after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure.
But many others don't have that lifesaver or someone close by to do CPR. Three hundred thousand Americans die from sudden cardiac arrest each year.

The report in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation finds blacks are more than twice as likely as whites to experience sudden cardiac arrest. And in blacks, the majority are under age 65, while in whites, most are older.

The study reveals blacks and whites who suffer sudden cardiac arrest have the same rates of clogged arteries, long considered the strongest risk factor. But other heart problems, including heart failure and heart damage resulting from high blood pressure, are significantly more common in blacks. "Hypertension is much more common and when it's there, it's much more severe and needs to be treated," said Dr. Anthony Magalski, a cardiologist at Saint Luke's Hospital.

"I think the key message is get your blood pressure checked and watch for diabetes. So go to your doctor," he added.

Whiteside doesn't know why she developed congestive heart failure. She does all she can to help prevent another episode of sudden cardiac arrest.

"I stick with my medication, and I try to exercise. You want to live, okay, and live a healthy life," she said.

Those words are spoken by a woman who's cheated death three times.