African American Health
High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) and African Americans
- What is High Blood Pressure?
- How Can I Control My Blood Pressure?
What is High Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure normally rises and falls. When the blood pressure is elevated over time, it is called high blood pressure. Any person can develop hypertension, which is the technical term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure measures the force of the blood flowing through your blood vessels when the heart contracts to pump blood and when the heart rests between beats. In people with hypertension, the tension within the blood vessels is greater, which makes the heart work harder.
Hypertension has been called the "silent killer" because it can cause damage to many body organs without any symptoms. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, vision problems and even death.
African Americans and people of African descent in the United Kingdom have among the highest rates of hypertension of any race or ethnic type in the world.1
- 35% of African Americans have hypertension, which accounts for 20% of the African American deaths in the United States - twice the percentage of deaths among whites from hypertension.1
- Compared with whites, hypertension develops earlier in life and average blood pressures are much higher in African Americans.2
- African Americans with high blood pressure have an 80% higher chance of dying from a stroke than in the general population.2
- African Americans with high blood pressure have a 20% higher chance of developing heart disease than in the general population.2
- African Americans with high blood pressure have a 4 times greater risk of developing hypertension related end stage kidney disease than the general population.2
How Can I Control My Blood Pressure?
- Know your number. Having your blood pressure checked is easy and painless. Besides your doctor's office, you may be able to get your blood pressure checked at a neighborhood clinic, health fair or at a shopping mall. The current guidelines of the International Society on Hypertension in Blacks recommend a treatment goal of 130/80 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) or lower for African American patients.
- Visit your healthcare provider. If you do not have high blood pressure, be sure to be checked at least once per year. If you do have high blood pressure, it should be checked more often, as your healthcare provider recommends.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Choose foods lower in fat and calories. Eat more fresh fruits and vegetables. Cook foods by broiling, grilling or boiling rather than frying. Eat less salt in both foods you cook and prepared foods you buy. If you plan to lose weight, try to lose it slowly, about one half to one pound per week.
- Be physically active. Begin a moderate level of activity such as 30 minutes of brisk walking, bicycling, dancing or gardening. It is best to do this activity every day, but you can divide the 30 minutes into 10 minutes segments throughout the day. Take the stairs instead of the elevator. Get off the bus one or two stops early. Be sure to check with your doctor before beginning any new exercise or activity.
- Cut back on alcoholic beverages. Drinking too much alcohol raises blood pressure. It also adds calories that may make losing weight harder. If you drink, it should be a moderate amount. For example: a man should drink no more than two drinks per day, and a woman should have no more than one drink per day. A pregnant woman should not drink alcohol at all.
- Stop smoking. Smoking makes the heart work harder. Kicking the smoking habit is hard, but the payoff is reduced chances of high blood pressure and other diseases, and an improved quality of life.
- Take prescribed medicines. It is important to take the right medication at the right time, in the right amount. Talk to your doctor if you are having bad side effects or worries about the cost. Do not stop taking the medicine without letting your doctor know.
1 CDC, National Center for Health Statistics.
2 "The Puzzle of Hypertension in African Americans," Scientific American.
"Blood Pressure," Spacelabs Medical.
"Facts about Lowering your Blood Pressure," National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
"Fast Stats A to Z: Hypertension," National Center for Health Statistics.
"Protect your Heart! Prevent High Blood Pressure," National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute.
A racially diverse, volunteer panel of health and other professionals from throughout Ohio reviewed this document. Panel members offer their perspectives on NetWellness content developed for African Americans prior to posting.
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Last Reviewed: Aug 20, 2007
Max C Reif, MD
Professor of Medicine
Director of Hypertension Section
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati