By Joyce Onyekaba, M.D., Medical Director, Crown Medical Center
African Americans and the people of African descent have the highest rates of hypertension of any race or ethnic group in the world. 35% of African Americans have hypertension, which accounts for about 20% of the African American deaths in the United States -- twice the percentage of deaths among whites from hypertension.
Photo: Dr. Joyce Onyekaba
African Americans and the people of African descent have the highest rates of hypertension of any race or ethnic group in the world.
• 35% of African Americans have hypertension, which accounts for about 20% of the African American deaths in the United States – twice the percentage of deaths among whites from hypertension.
• Compared with whites, hypertension develops earlier in life and average blood pressures are much higher in African Americans.
• African Americans with high blood pressure have at least 80% higher chance of dying from stroke than in the general population.
• African Americans with high blood pressure have a 20% higher chance of developing heart disease than in the general population.
• African Americans with high blood pressure have a greater risk of developing hypertension related end stage kidney disease than the general population.
What is blood pressure?
Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing on the blood vessel walls. The heart pumps blood into the arteries, which carry the blood throughout the whole body. 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, a term for high blood pressure. Blood pressure measures the force of the blood flowing through the 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.
High blood pressure is dangerous because it makes the heart work much harder to pump and distribute blood to the entire body. This extra work contributes to the hardening of the arteries in a disease condition we call atherosclerosis.
Incidence of high blood pressure and heart disease is fast growing in the African American population. Generally a blood pressure greater than 140/90 is considered high, and pressure of 130/80 in patients who have diabetes, kidney disease or heart failure is also considered high. Normal blood pressure should be less than 120/80.
The exact causes of hypertension are not known but several conditions may play a role in its development. These may include:
• Obesity (being overweight)
• Lack of physical exercise
• Too much salt in your diet
• Too much alcohol consumption (over one to two drinks per day)
• Stress factors
• Genetics (your family "blood line")
What Are the Symptoms of High blood Pressure?
There are no symptoms or signs of high blood pressure. That means you will not feel it, and about one-third of those who have high blood pressure don't know they have it. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked by your doctor.
People who are more likely to develop hypertension include:
People with family members who have high blood pressure
People of African descent, including Africans and African-Americans
Women who are pregnant
Women who take birth control pills
People over the age of thirty-five
People who are overweight
People who are not active or those who live sedentary lives.
People who drink alcohol
People who eat too much fatty foods or foods with too much salt
People who smoke
How do I know if I have high blood pressure?
Your doctor or healthcare professional can tell if you have high blood pressur