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.