A Heart-to-Heart Discussion About Blood Pressure in African Americans

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    April was National Minority Health Month, and though it has past there is still time to increase awareness of diseases and health conditions that disproportionately impact minorities. African Americans are one group of minorities that are more likely to have certain conditions, and hypertension — or high blood pressure — is one of them.

    While anyone can develop hypertension, research shows that African Americans are 40 percent more likely than Caucasians to have the condition.

    High blood pressure is a chronic medical condition in which blood pressure levels are elevated. It’s important to know that high blood pressure can lead to heart attack and stroke.

    David S. Kountz, M.D., President, International Society on Hypertension in Blacks (ISHIB), understands the concerns many African-Americans face when diagnosed with high blood pressure. To help African-Americans manage the condition, Dr. Kountz talked to the Atlanta Daily World and answered key questions about high blood pressure. He also shared his thoughts on lifestyle modifications and medications that can help to lower high blood pressure.

    ADW: How is your blood pressure level measured?
    Dr. Kountz: Blood pressure is measured using two numbers – the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure.
    • The systolic number, which is read first, measures the pressure in blood vessels as the heart beats.
    • The diastolic number, which is read second, measures the pressure in your blood vessels between heartbeats. Your doctor is the best person to evaluate your blood pressure measurements.

    ADW: How prevalent is hypertension in the African-American community?
    Dr. Kountz: Compared to Caucasians and Hispanic Americans, African Americans develop hypertension at an earlier age and to a more severe degree. More African-American women than men have hypertension. African Americans with hypertension also face a three times greater risk of stroke than Caucasians with the condition. The good news is that African Americans are more likely to be aware that they have high blood pressure and to get treatment.

    ADW: What are some of the symptoms that may signal high blood pressure?
    Dr. Kountz: Hypertension typically has no symptoms, so it’s important you visit your doctor and have your blood pressure checked regularly. Only your doctor can determine whether you have hypertension.

    ADW: Are there risk factors for African Americans that contribute to the development of hypertension?
    Dr. Kountz: There are risk factors associated with the development of high blood pressure that apply to everyone.
    These may include:
    • Age. As we age, our risk of developing high blood pressure increases. About 67 percent of American men 75 years and older have hypertension. For women 75 years and older, the proportion is higher – more than 78 percent have high blood pressure.
    • Family History. Genetics can play a part in the development of hypertension. • Lifestyle habits. Consuming too much salt or alcohol, smoking or failing to exercise regularly are risk factors.
    • Overweight or obesity. You’re more likely to develop high blood pressure if you’re overweight or obese.

    ADW: How can you help manage your high blood pressure after a diagnosis?
    Dr. Kountz: It’s important to work with your doctor to create a personalized plan to manage blood pressure. This plan may include lifestyle changes – such as exercising regularly and eating a healthy diet – and medication, if prescribed. Your doctor will consider your risk factors and other health conditions to determine your blood pressure goal and treatment plan. It’s important to know your goal and to work with your doctor to reach it.

    ADW: In addition to diet and exercise, what are some other ways you can help manage high blood pressure?
    Dr. Kountz: When diet and exercise alone aren’t enough to lower blood pressure to your goal, your doctor may prescribe medication. If needed, your physician will work with you to find a medication that works for you, and you should take it as directed. For example, Edarbyclor (azilsartan medoxomil and chlorthalidone, an angiotensin II receptor blocker/diuretic fixed-dose combination) is a
    medication that is used to treat hypertension. In one 12-week clinical study of patients with moderate to severe hypertension, Edarbyclor 40/25 mg was shown to lower systolic blood pressure in patients more than Benicar HCT 40/25 mg, another hypertension medication.

    This result was similar across patient-groups tested, including African Americans. Not all medications or treatment plans are right for everyone, so you should speak to your doctor to develop a plan right for you.

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