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.
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
- High dietary salt and fat
- Low intake of potassium
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 for people younger than 60.
- 150 is high blood pressure for people aged 60 and over.
The bottom number is called your diastolic blood pressure. This number represents the force of blood through your blood vessels in between heartbeats, while your heart is resting.
- 79 or below is normal diastolic blood pressure.
- 80-89 is prehypertension.
- 90 and greater is high blood pressure.
Blood pressure changes throughout the day, depending on your activities. Blood pressure changes over time, as well. Systolic blood pressure tends to rise as you get older. Diastolic blood pressure may decrease as you get older.
If either of your blood pressure readings is consistently above normal, then take action right away. Work with your doctor to develop a plan to treat high blood pressure before damage to your organs occurs.
Treating High Blood Pressure in African-Americans
If you have high blood pressure, consult your doctor to find which combination of treatments works best, given your individual health and lifestyle. Your treatment plan is likely to include the following elements:
- Follow the DASH eating plan. The Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension (DASH) diet plan includes eating less fat and saturated fat, as well as eating more fresh fruits and vegetables and whole-grain food. Limiting alcohol consumption can also help lower your blood pressure. A dietitian can help you find ways to meet these goals without giving up your favorite foods.
- Limit salt intake. Because blacks seem more sensitive to salt, it makes sense to watch how much salt you eat. Table salt and sodium used in processed foods are the two sources of sodium in your diet. Consult a dietician to learn how to select and prepare tasty, low-salt meals.
- Watch your weight. Being overweight increases your risk of developing high blood pressure. Following the DASH eating plan and getting regular exercise can help you lose weight. Ask your doctor to help you determine a goal. Your doctor can also refer you to other health care professionals for assistance in setting up a weight loss plan.
- Quit smoking. Tobacco smoke can make blood pressure rise. It can also directly damage your heart and blood vessels. Talk with your doctor about ways to quit.
Medication. Your doctor may prescribe medication to control your high blood pressure. It's common to take more than one drug to treat the problem. Your doctor may ask you to switch drugs or change the dosage until you find a combination that works best to control high blood pressure with the least side effects for you. Drugs used to treat high blood pressure include:
Diuretics, which reduce the amount of fluid in your blood by helping your body rid itself of extra salt. This type of blood pressure medication should be used in most cases to treat high blood pressure.
Calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, and alpha-blockers help keep your blood vessels from tightening up. Your doctor may want to start with calcium channel blockers by themselves, or in combination with diuretics.
Beta-blockers prevent your body from using the hormone adrenaline by blocking the cell receptors for it. Adrenaline is a stress hormone. It makes your heart beat harder and faster. It also makes your blood vessels tighten. All of this makes blood pressure higher.
Making Your High Blood Pressure Treatment Plan Work
To be sure your high blood pressure treatment plan is working, follow these steps:
- Check your blood pressure as often as recommended by your doctor.
- Follow your treatment plan consistently. Let your doctor know right away if you have problems with part of the plan. Your doctor may refer you to other health care professionals who can help.
- See your doctor as often as requested. Bring your blood pressure records to show your doctor how well the plan is working.
- Ask your doctor or pharmacist for information about medication side effects. Know when to call your doctor if there is a problem.
Your knowledge about the risk of high blood pressure in African-Americans is the first step in controlling this condition, so you can remain as healthy as possible for years to come.