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Why Do African-American Women Have the Highest Blood Pressure Rates?

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Over 77 million American adults have hypertension, which is a blood pressure level higher than 140/90. For many years, middle-aged male smokers were the prime high-blood-pressure targets. But new research shows more African-American women suffer from high hypertension than black men and white adults. If you’re in this high-risk minority group, learn your risk factors and ways to prevent or improve this serious condition.

Understanding High Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against your artery walls as your heart pumps out blood. When this pressure rises and stays elevated over time, you have high blood pressure. Although this silent killer has no noticeable symptoms, hypertension prevents your blood from flowing easily through your blood vessels. This puts pressure on your vessels, damaging them and straining your heart. Blood flowing inadequately to your organs can cause a heart attack, stroke and problems with your eyes or kidneys.

Surprising Study Results

A Vanderbilt University Medical Center study reported unexpected statistics; they studied 70,000 people in 12 southeastern Stroke Belt states where stroke incidences are high.
  • A surprising 64 percent of African-American women had high blood pressure compared to 52 percent of Caucasian women and 51 percent of black and white men.
  • Fifty-seven percent of study participants had hypertension. Of those, 59 percent were black and 52 percent were white.
  • Black men and women were twice as likely as white men and women to have unknown and untreated high blood pressure.
  • Men were more likely to have uncontrolled hypertension than women.
  • Thirty-one percent of African-American men were unaware they had high blood pressure compared to 28 percent of black women, 27 percent of Caucasian men and 17 percent of white women.
  • Eighty-two percent of people who knew they had hypertension were on medications. Of those, 44 percent were taking at least two medicine types. But the treatment for 29 percent was just a diuretic, a recommended first-line medication to lower blood pressure.

Heart Disease Risk Factors

Heart disease is the top killer of U.S. women, causing one in four deaths. Its risk factors are more prevalent in African-American women. Hypertension increases your stroke and congestive heart failure risks and black women have high rates of both. You’re more likely to develop heart disease if you have any of the following risk factors. Luckily, you can control all but the last two.
  • High blood pressure. If your blood pressure is above the normal range but not elevated enough to be high blood pressure, you have prehypertension. But you’re likely to develop high blood pressure in the future. Even levels slightly above normal increase your heart disease risk.
  • Diabetes. Doctors have diagnosed about 11 million Americans with diabetes but another 5.7 million don’t know they have it. Around two-thirds of diabetics die from a heart or blood vessel disease.
  • High cholesterol. Nearly half of black women have high total cholesterol. Excess cholesterol and fat in your blood build up in your vessels supplying blood to your heart. This can lead to blockages.
  • Excess weight/obesity. Nearly 80 percent of black women are overweight or obese, increasing their risk of heart disease and other conditions including stroke, gallbladder disease, arthritis and some cancers.
  • Consuming too much salt
  • Inactivity. Fifty-five percent of black women don’t engage in any spare-time physical activities.
  • Smoking
  • Excess alcohol use
  • Increasing age (55 or older). Women are more likely to get heart disease after menopause when their bodies quit producing estrogen. But black women tend to develop hypertension earlier in life.
  • Family history of high blood pressure

Beneficial Lifestyle Changesaa2

Despite your race, gender and risk factors, adopting healthy habits can lower your heart disease risk by as much as 82 percent. If you already have high blood pressure, use these tips to control it.
  • Maintain a healthy weight. If you’re overweight, losing just 10 pounds can lower your blood pressure. To keep weight off permanently, stick to a healthy, lower-calorie eating plan with regular physical activity. Try to lose between one-half and two pounds per week.
  • Choose heart-healthy foods. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Pick lean meats and low-fat dairy products. Limit salt.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than one drink per day.
  • Exercise regularly. One plan advises at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity like a brisk walk most days of the week. If you need to divide this period into shorter ones, use increments of at least 10 minutes each. Another weekly plan involves doing two and a half hours of moderate-intensity aerobic activity or one and a quarter hours of vigorous-intensity aerobic activity or a combination of the two plus muscle-strengthening activities on two or more days.
  • Don’t smoke. Quitting can drop your heart disease risk by over half in just one year.
  • Reduce stress. Manage chronic emotional and mental stress that can elevate blood pressure. Breathe deeply, laugh or relax with your pet. Try yoga, T’ai Chi or transcendental meditation.
  • Be proactive about your health. Have regular blood pressure, blood sugar and cholesterol tests; prompt diagnosis and treatment can minimize complications. Make your doctor aware of other risk factors. Take all prescriptions including blood pressure medications as directed. Controlling conditions through lifestyle changes and medical treatment will increase your quality of life.

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