Detecting and treating high blood pressure

High blood pressure is called the “silent killer” because it often has no warning signs or symptoms. Yet it is serious medical condition affecting 1 in 3 adult Americans and more than 40 percent of African-Americans.

It’s important to get your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. It is measured with an inflatable arm cuff and pressure gauge. These can be found at a doctor’s office and drugstores.

For adults, normal blood pressure is below 120/80. A pre-hypertensive blood pressure measures between 120 to 139/ 80 to 89. A hypertensive blood pressure measures 140/90 or higher.

“Blood pressure has to be high on two or more separate occasions when at the resting rate in order to be diagnosed as high blood pressure,” said Dr. Neha Shah, a family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group.

According to the American Heart Association, starting at the age of 20, a blood pressure screening should take place at each doctor’s visit or at least every two years if you do not have high blood pressure.

If you have already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, blood pressure readings should be monitored closely on a regular basis.

High blood pressure has many risk factors. They include:
Age – As a person ages, the risk of high blood pressure increases.
Race – High blood pressure is most common among African-Americans.
Gender – Men are more likely to have high blood pressure. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure following menopause.
Genetics – High blood pressure often runs in families.

High blood pressure cannot be cured. However some of its risk factors can be controlled and managed. Shah said in order to control blood pressure, a person can implement a better diet, which may include limiting salt intake and participating in regular exercise. You should also maintain a healthy weight, limit alcohol consumption, avoid smoking and manage stress.

If lifestyle and environment changes cannot control high blood pressure, one or more of the following types of medications can be prescribed by a physician to aid in treatment.

· A thiazide diuretic, also known as a water pill, is a medication that helps the kidneys eliminate sodium and water from the body, reducing blood volume and, therefore, reducing blood pressure. This is usually one of the first medications prescribed.

· Beta blockers reduce strain on the heart and open up blood vessels. This causes the heart to beat slower and with less force.

· Calcium channel blockers relax the muscles of the blood vessels and some can slow the heart rate.
If these medications don’t work, a physician may prescribe alpha blockers, alpha-beta blockers, central-acting agents, renin inhibitors or angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors.

Shah reiterated the best prescription for fighting the condition. “High blood pressure can be controlled by seeing your doctor regularly, watching your diet, exercising and taking your medication as prescribed,” she said.

This article was published in Volume 82, Number 42 (August 15, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, Texas.

High blood pressure takes toll on Blacks

High blood pressure – also known as hypertension – remains one of the greatest health threats to African-Americans. More than 40 percent of African-Americans have high blood pressure, and they also develop the illness at younger ages compared to other racial groups.

The prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans in the United States is the highest in the world. In addition, African-Americans are more likely to develop complications associated with high blood pressure, including stroke, heart disease, kidney disease, blindness and dementia.

Why are African-Americans plagued by high blood pressure?

“There is not one indication to its cause but it can more than likely be genetic or due to environmental factors and lifestyle choices,” said Dr. Neha Shah, a family medicine physician with Memorial Hermann Medical Group.

Risk factors for high blood pressure include smoking, lack of exercise, obesity, high dietary intake of salt, and a genetic predisposition.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases a person’s stroke risk by four to six times. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, African-American adults are 60 percent more likely to have a stroke than their white adult counterparts.

African-American stroke survivors are also more likely to become disabled and have difficulty with activities of daily living.

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the blood vessel walls. As the heart pumps more blood, it increases the blood pressure.

Blood pressure is generally recorded as two numbers written as a ratio or one on top of the other. The first number measures the systolic pressure, which is the blood pressure when the heart contracts. The second number, the lower of the two, is the diastolic pressure. It measures the blood pressure between heartbeats or the heart at rest.

A normal blood pressure consists of a systolic number of less than 120 and a diastolic number of less than 80. Prehypertension begins when the systolic number is between 120 and 139 and the diastolic number reads between 80 and 89.

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is classified by a systolic number between 140 and 179 and diastolic number between 90 and 109.

Dr. Shah says a slightly elevated blood pressure can be treated through lifestyle changes such as exercise and dietary changes. In more serious cases, medicines such as calcium blockers, alpha-blockers, and beta-blockers can be prescribed by a physician.

If left untreated, high blood pressure can affect various parts of the body. The longer a person goes without treatment, the chances of damage to the eyes, kidney, heart, or brain increase.

The good news is, by making healthier lifestyle choices, African-Americans can lessen their chances of becoming another high blood pressure statistic.

This article was published in Volume 82, Number 42 (August 15, 2013) of the Defender newspaper in Houston, Texas.