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High Blood Pressure Remains the Silent Killer in African Americans!

High blood pressure affects millions of adults, teens, and children. It is also known as hypertension and is the most common cardiovascular disease. Blood pressure is the force generated by our blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as it circulates in our bodies. The heart is the pump that circulates the blood; in normal circumstances, the system can regulate pressure so that it does not exceed a normal level. Just like in a garden hose, too much pressure can result in damage over time. This damage will manifest itself as heart disease and strokes.

High blood pressure is a very unique disease in African Americans. It tends to occur at younger ages than in other groups in the U.S. African Americans are also much more likely to develop hypertension-related complications, like kidney disease, stroke, blindness, heart disease, and dementia. The most recent death of movie director John Singleton from complications of a stroke at a very young age has highlighted the impact of poorly controlled high blood pressure.

The actual cause of hypertension is unknown, but there are triggering factors. There is a likely genetic link to the high prevalence of high blood pressure in people of African descent. African Americans appear to be more sensitive to salt (sodium) than other groups, increasing the risk of high blood pressure. Researchers also know that African Americans respond differently to high blood pressure medications than other groups in the U.S.

Some researchers have linked the higher prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans to their unique experience in the U.S. There appears to be validity to this conclusion based on the fact that blacks all over the world have high blood pressure at rates similar to whites. The difference seen in African Americans is astounding, with 41% of American blacks having high blood pressure as compared to 27% of whites. Obesity is a risk factor and is very prevalent in the African American community. Discrimination and socioeconomic factors are also felt to play a role.

Risk factors that have been identified for high blood pressure include:

  • Being African American

  • Obesity

  • Increasing age

  • Family history of hypertension

  • Sedentary lifestyle (being inactive!)

  • High salt intake

  • Nicotine abuse

  • Low potassium intake

Blood pressure has two components:

The top number is the systolic pressure, and the bottom number is the diastolic pressure. Systolic blood pressure is considered normal at 120 or less mm Hg (millimeters of mercury), and diastolic pressure is considered normal at 80 or less mm Hg. Systolic pressure measures the force of blood flow against the wall of your blood vessels during a heartbeat. The diastolic pressure measures the force of blood against the wall of your blood vessels during filling the heart between beats (when the heart is at rest).

Your blood pressure is not static, meaning that it changes throughout the day. Blood pressure varies with activities and stress. Systolic blood pressure tends to rise as we age due to the stiffening of the arteries. Diastolic pressure can decrease as we age. I recommend that all people have a blood pressure device in their homes. They are inexpensive, and most are very accurate. You should check your blood pressure twice a day and see a physician immediately if the readings are consistently abnormal. Once you start a treatment, don’t assume the medication is working. Continue to check your blood pressure regularly. Exercise regularly and lose weight. If your pressure remains high or is too low, follow up with your physician immediately. Your primary goal is to avoid the catastrophic consequences of poorly controlled high blood pressure as it occurs regularly in the form of blindness, debilitating strokes, massive heart attacks, kidney failure, and erectile dysfunction.

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