Black History Month is replete with reminders of valiant achievement and great struggle, but African Americans also have a history of higher susceptibility to heart disease and stroke and “the silent killer,” high blood pressure.
The American Heart Association recently published its 2018 blood pressure guidelines and held a symposium, Jan. 30, to get the word out. The message: Know your numbers and get them checked regularly.
Among the 75 or so professionals who attended the symposium were Allegheny County Health Director Dr. Karen Hacker and UPMC Tobacco Treatment Service Director Dr. Esa M. Davis.
“It’s crucial for residents, particularly African American residents, to monitor their blood and act accordingly, as they are at an increased risk for hypertension and the consequences such as stroke, heart attacks, and kidney disease,” Dr. Hacker said. “Residents can prevent these outcomes by monitoring their blood pressure, receiving regular checkups, taking medication if prescribed and modifying behaviors that can help prevent hypertension…including obesity, smoking, drinking alcohol, physical inactivity, and high salt diets.”
According to the AHA, the prevalence of high blood pressure in African Americans in the United States is among the highest in the world. More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic African American men and women have high blood pressure. For African Americans, high blood pressure also develops earlier in life and is usually more severe.
AHA Spokesperson Karen Colbert knows firsthand the dangers of high blood pressure.
“As an African American woman, unbeknownst to me, I had high blood pressure six years ago and had I not paid attention, I could have had a different outcome,” she said. “I’m fine now. I manage my blood pressure now by a home monitor and make a point of talking about it with my doctor. I encourage my family to pay special attention to what they eat. We must stay away from salt and eat more veggies. It’s that simple! We can do something about this health risk!”
When you go to the doctor and they put on the blood pressure cuff, pump it up and read the dial, they’ll say it’s “___over___.” The top, or first number is the systolic pressure your blood exerts on artery walls during a heartbeat. The bottom, or second number is the diastolic pressure exerted by the blood when the heart is at rest. Both numbers are measured in millimeters of mercury, mm Hg. If the top number is 120 or below, and the bottom number is 80 or below, that’s normal.
There are four categories beyond that, each indicating a greater health hazard:
•Elevated blood pressure is when readings are consistently ranging from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic. People with elevated blood pressure are likely to develop high blood pressure.
•Hypertension Stage 1 is when blood pressure is consistently ranging from 130-139 systolic or 80-89 mm Hg diastolic. At this stage, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication based on your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease.
•Hypertension Stage 2 is when blood pressure is consistently ranging at levels of 140/90 mm Hg or higher. At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications along with lifestyle changes.
•Hypertensive crisis is when high blood pressure requires medical attention. If your blood pressure readings suddenly exceed 180/120 mm Hg, wait five minutes and test again. If your readings are still unusually high, contact your doctor immediately. If you are experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down. Call 9-1-1.
Researchers have found indications that there may be a gene that makes African Americans much more salt sensitive. In people with this gene, as little as one extra gram (half a teaspoon) of salt could raise blood pressure as much as 5 mm Hg. The risk of death from ischemic heart disease and stroke doubles with every 20 mm Hg systolic or 10 mm Hg diastolic increase among people age 40 to 89.
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