Hypertension is one of the most important risk factors for CVD. According to John Schindler, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the University of Pittsburgh, hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a very common problem that affects up to 70 million adults in the U.S. This means that about one in three people older than 18 has high blood pressure. High blood pressure is generally defined as an average systolic blood pressure greater than 140 mm Hg or an average diastolic blood pressure greater than 90 mm Hg. The first step in controlling high blood pressure is recognizing the problem. It is known as a “silent” disease because many people have no symptoms and aren’t aware they have the condition until after they have had a heart attack or stroke.
Unfortunately, in the African American community, hypertension usually affects people earlier in life than it does in other populations. It can also lead to worse outcomes, including kidney disease, stroke, blindness, dementia and heart disease. Recent information shows that one out of every two African Americans with the condition is currently being treated with acceptable results. But, that means that half of African Americans with hypertension either don’t know they have the condition or aren’t being treated effectively to get their blood pressure as low as it should be. In Allegheny County, the percentage of adults who were told they had high blood pressure increased from 27 percent to 33 percent between 2002 and 2009-2010. As seen in Figure 1, a significantly higher percentage of Black adults than White adults had ever been told they had high blood pressure.
What can people do to avoid conditions like CVD and hypertension? Sometimes people have risk factors that make them more likely to have CVD, such as family history, being male and being older. The first step, says Dr. Schindler, is to talk to your health care provider. If you are concerned about CVD or are actually having symptoms, talk to people who can look at your overall health and give the best advice. Treatment may involve medication. If it doesn’t, living a healthful lifestyle is always good. Dr. Schindler suggests completely cutting out tobacco use; getting daily physical exercise; eating foods that are low in fat, cholesterol and salt; maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular health screenings. Also, Dr. Schindler points out that communicating honestly with your health care provider is important. If a treatment isn’t working for you, let him/her know. If you visit your health care provider regularly, she or he can stay on top of what you need to be as healthy as possible.