Hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, affects African-Americans at a disproportionately
higher rate than other ethnicities in the United States. Moreover, African-Americans develop high blood pressure at younger ages than other groups and are more likely to suffer serious complications.
We often refer to hypertension as a “silent killer” because it usually presents no noticeable symptoms. This makes early detection and prevention all the more crucial to avoiding serious medical outcomes such as stroke, kidney disease, impaired vision, heart disease, and a shortened life expectancy.
What is blood pressure?
“Blood pressure,” as the name suggests, is the pressure of blood circulating within blood vessels. A blood pressure reading is usually expressed in terms of systolic pressure (the top number) indicating how much pressure your blood is exerting against artery walls when the heart beats, over diastolic pressure (the bottom number) indicating how much pressure your blood is exerting against artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.
Risk factors for high blood pressure
Medical researchers are convinced that hypertension is triggered by one or more of the following risk factors:
• Being overweight.
• Having diabetes.
• Having a sedentary lifestyle.
• Having a family history of high blood pressure.
• Consuming too much salt and fat. (African-Americans seem especially sensitive to salt, which is a confirmed risk factor.)
• Smoking or using nicotine-based products.
What you can do
You can lower your risk of developing high blood pressure by following a few basic guidelines:
• Eat a diet that includes more fresh fruits, vegetables,
and whole grains.
• Get moving and exercise. Simply taking a brisk 20- to 30-minute walk most days of
the week can help reduce blood pressure and give you an overall sense of well-being.
• Mange your weight. A doctor can advise you or refer you to other healthcare professionals for assistance in setting up a weight-loss plan.
• Quit smoking or using nicotine in any form. Talk with a doctor about ways to help you quit.
• Limit, or avoid, alcohol consumption.
• Take doctor-recommended medications. A physician can prescribe medications to help manage high blood pressure.
Don’t try to self-monitor your blood pressure at supermarket kiosks. Acceptable blood pressure may vary from person to person and rise and fall with changes in physical activity or emotional state. Physicians are your best source for determining a suitable range for your individual situation.
Too many African-Americans die each year from this disease. Be smart about your health. Have
a medical checkup at least once a year. High blood pressure, when detected early, can be managed for healthier outcomes.
Dr. Vincent is a board-certified Internal Medicine physician caring for patients at Kelsey-Seybold’s Tanglewood Clinic.