Living an organic lifestyle that incorporates a healthful diet and stress management is particularly important if you’re an African-American woman.

Two out of three urban black women at high risk for heart disease do not consider themselves at risk, according to recent research from Tulane University in New Orleans.

“Black women are more likely than other groups to die from heart disease,” says Dr. Karen B. DeSalvo, an associate professor of clinical medicine and chief of the Division of General Internal Medicine & Geriatrics. “We do not fully understand why they are at greater risk. The results of this study show the women themselves do not think they are at risk, even when they are. We also determined that women who are poor or who believe they are under a lot of stress are the least able to accurately assess their personal risk of heart disease.”

Dr. DeSalvo and her research team interviewed 128 African-American women seeking care over a four-month period at an urban New Orleans internal medicine clinic. The women were considered high risk if they had three or more heart disease risk factors, including obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, tobacco use and a family history of heart disease. Both obesity and high blood pressure were found in 61% of the women.

Addressing the disproportionate impact of heart disease on black women will require improved health education, as well as social or policy approaches to reducing stress and increasing support, according to Dr. DeSalvo. Questions about perceived stress should be included in heart disease risk screenings, she says. A better understanding of the stressors for urban black women, as well as methods to reduce stress, could help women address their heart disease risks.

Results of the study were published in the December edition of the Journal of General Internal Medicine.