Heart Disease Is Number One Killer of Minority Women

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Even when language isn't a barrier, culture can be. Black and Hispanic women often ignore nutrition advice when the recommended foods are unfamiliar or pricey or when culturally favorite dishes wind up on a "bad" list. As for physical activity, many have been raised to view exercise as unladylike. In some cultures, it's frowned upon to be seen sweating in front of men.

So What Can Be Done?

Johnson said she believes that the bias against minority women and their heart health starts at the research level. Currently, not enough of them are included in studies to help understand their particular requirements and biological idiosyncrasies.

"There needs to be a stepped-up effort in research that includes a focus on minority women in a robust way," she said. "There's still a significant knowledge gap of their underlying risks and how to decrease those risks."

Wood added that more culturally sensitive programming would also go a long way. Her ongoing HAPPY Heart study and community outreach program delivers a combination of nutrition, exercise and stress management to minority and lower-income women. The first phase included women over 40 to great success.

The next phase of the study will focus on younger women and lowering the cost of the interventions, something Wood said she'd like to see happen in more communities.

Gomez agreed. Thanks to great medical care, she said, her heart is now in tip-top shape. Her heart no longer races and her blood pressure is at normal levels. A few weeks ago she climbed to the top of the 50-story Prudential Tower in Boston as part of Brigham and Women's ClimbCorp. Program and felt she could keep going.

She said she'd like to see prevention, diagnostic and treatment programs start earlier when they have a better chance of helping women like her avoid major issues later in life.

"We think it cannot happen to us. We think it happens to the older folks, to the abuelas, but that's not always the case," she said. "We have to work towards changing this idea and we have to embrace that awareness."

Tweet Chat: Women's Heart Health

To raise public awareness about heart health for all women, Dr. Richard Besser, ABC News' chief health and medical correspondent, will host a one-hour tweet chat on Twitter today from 1-2 p.m. ET. Want to participate? Here's how. Follow the conversation or jump in with comments and questions of your own.

Medical experts from the American Heart Association, National Blood and Lung Institute, Go Red, the Mayo Clinic and others will join Besser on the chat to answer your questions and offer advice. A special guest, Olympic gold medal gymnast and Go Red spokeswoman Gabby Douglas, will also be tweeting.

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