Listen to your heart: raise awareness about serious heart disease in African American and black communities

Dr. Don O. Rowe, MD, FACC


More than a year and a half after the global pandemic that disproportionately affected colored communities, we continue to experience the tragedy of public health. If there is any hope of gaining from so many hardships and losses, it is that COVID-19 has once again sparked new conversations about awareness of the diseases and inequalities that still exist in our healthcare system.

As a cardiologist practicing in Atlanta who has been treating heart disease for 12 years, I have witnessed how delayed visits can affect care in our community. It is always frustrating when patients with running heart disease come to my office who could potentially be diagnosed and treated earlier.

That’s why there’s one condition I want every patient to know about. This is called transthyrethynamyloid cardiomyopathy, or ATTR-CM. ATTR-CM is a serious and often underdiagnosed cause of heart failure.

ATTR-CM is a progressive disease in which over time the heart muscle begins to thicken and harden. There are two types of ATTR-CM; the wild type, which is associated with aging, and the hereditary type, which is associated with a gene change (mutation) and can be transmitted from a relative. The most common mutation in the United States, known as V122I, occurs almost exclusively in African Americans. It is estimated that approximately 3% to 4% of African Americans have a V122I mutation, although not all people with the V122I mutation develop symptoms of hereditary ATTR-CM.

While heart failure is common among black and African American communities, hereditary ATTR-CM in these populations is often ignored by physicians for several reasons. In fact, some patients with ATTR-CM say they visited up to five doctors before getting an accurate diagnosis.

That’s why I’m excited to work with Pfizer Voices for the heart in Atlanta, a community initiative that brings together physicians and trusted local organizations in African-American and black communities across the country to raise awareness of hereditary ATTR-CM as an often underdiagnosed cause of heart failure.

Early signs of ATTR-CM may include irregular heartbeat, fatigue, shortness of breath, carpal tunnel syndrome, swelling in the hands and feet, and numbness and tingling in the hands. Some of these symptoms are not traditionally associated with heart disease, which can contribute to repeated visits to the doctor and delayed or misdiagnosis.

I am committed to raising awareness about hereditary ATTR-CM because I have seen with my own eyes how late diagnosis can negatively affect the patient (and their loved ones), so it is important to inform our community about this condition – including everyone from patients to caregivers to local health professionals.

If you experience seemingly unrelated signs and symptoms (such as irregular heartbeat, fatigue, shortness of breath, or carpal tunnel syndrome), the family has had heart problems and you have been diagnosed with heart failure, see your doctor. or an experienced cardiologist. Whether they seem related or not, it is important to share your symptoms and health history. This will allow the doctor to provide the necessary care and make an appropriate diagnosis.

Family members and caregivers also play an important role because they sometimes notice or remember health symptoms that the patient may forget or forget to mention and help people with hereditary ATTR-CM manage the disease.

Within the c Voices for the heart efforts, me and former NBA basketball player and coach Don Cheney, himself a hereditary ATTR-CM patient, will be represented by speakers at a virtual event led by Vision on February 28, 2022.. Don will share his personal history of diagnosis and life with hereditary ATTR-CM. * I will share more information on hereditary ATTR-CM symptoms and diagnosis, and additional educational resources on hereditary ATTR-CM will be available. For more information on the event, Click here and scan the QR code below.

By working together, we can overcome the problem of low awareness and raise our collective voice to help educate family members, friends and neighbors who are at risk for hereditary ATTR-CM.

For resources on legacy ATTR-CM, including a discussion guide to help talk to your doctor, you can visit

The content was developed by Pfizer in collaboration with Dr. Don Rowe. Dr. Don Rove is a consultant to the Pfizer Voices for the Heart program.

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