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High Blood Pressure in African-Americans

High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, affects African-Americans in unique ways:

  • African-Americans develop high blood pressure at younger ages than other groups in the U.S.
  • African-Americans are more likely to develop complications associated with high blood pressure. These problems include stroke, kidney disease, blindness, dementia, and heart disease.

Why is high blood pressure in African-Americans so common? If you are African-American, what can you do to avoid developing high blood pressure? Find out how you can protect yourself from this serious health condition.

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Why Is High Blood Pressure Common in African-Americans?

To date, researchers do not have a definitive answer to this question, but some believe that high blood pressure in African-Americans may be triggered by the following factors:

  • Genetic factors. High rates of high blood pressure in African-Americans may be due to the genetic make-up of people of African descent. Researchers have uncovered some facts: In the U.S, blacks respond differently to high blood pressure drugs than do other groups of people. Blacks in the U.S. also seem to be more sensitive to salt, which increases the risk of developing high blood pressure.
  • Environmental factors. Some scientists believe that high blood pressure in African-Americans is due to factors unique to the experience of blacks in the U.S. Blacks worldwide have rates of high blood pressure that are similar to whites. In the U.S., however, the difference is dramatic: 41% of blacks have high blood pressure, as compared to 27% of whites. In addition, black people in the U.S are more likely to be overweight than blacks in other countries. Some experts think that social and economic factors -- including discrimination and economic inequality -- are responsible for this difference. 

Researchers will hopefully find the causes for the high incidence of high blood pressure in African-Americans. In the meantime, there is a lot you can do to keep high blood pressure from damaging your health.

High Blood Pressure Risk Factors for African-Americans

Being African-American is a risk factor for developing high blood pressure. Others include:

  • Increased age
  • Excessive weight
  • A family history of high blood pressure
  • Having diabetes
  • Inactivity
  • High dietary salt and fat 
  • Low intake of potassium
  • Smoking

The more risk factors you have, the more likely it is that you have high blood pressure or will develop it in the future. Take steps now to find out more. Even if you don't have high blood pressure, you can lower your risk by following the treatment guidelines for high blood pressure in African-Americans.

Do You Have High Blood Pressure?

Your doctor can easily measure blood pressure. A blood pressure reading includes two numbers, one written on top of the other.

The top number is called your systolic blood pressure. This number represents the force of blood through your blood vessels during your heartbeat.

  • 119 or below is the normal systolic blood pressure.
  • 120-139 is prehypertension.
  • 140 and greater is high blood pressure.
  • 150 is high blood pressure for people aged 60 and over.

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