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Stroke Risk Much Higher in African-Americans with Hypertension

< Dec. 19, 2012 > -- Having high blood pressure puts you at risk for serious health problems, such as heart disease and stroke. For African-Americans, the condition can be especially hard on the heart. A new study finds that uncontrolled high blood pressure may greatly increase this group's risk for stroke, particularly in those ages 45 to 64.

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Understanding blood pressure

Blood exerts force on the artery walls as it is pumped throughout your body. Doctors measure that force to find out your blood pressure level. A reading of less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) is considered normal. A reading between 120/80 and 139/89 mmHg is considered to be prehypertension. A level of 140/90 mmHg or above is high. Doctors refer to the top number as systolic pressure. The lower number measures diastolic pressure.

Experts have long known that African-Americans have a greater risk for high blood pressure. They are also less likely to manage the condition properly once they have it. These factors may play a large role in this group's increased risk for stroke.

"Blood pressure is a triple threat to African-Americans," explains study author George Howard, Dr.P.H., chair of biostatistics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham. "Once high blood pressure is not controlled, the increased stroke risk is three times larger for African-Americans than whites."

Studying stroke risk

Researchers followed nearly 28,000 people for more than four years. Study participants included African-Americans and whites. During the study, researchers found that every 10-millimeter increase in systolic blood pressure raised a person's risk for stroke. That risk was higher in African-Americans, compared with whites. The age group of 45 to 64 showed the greatest difference. In that group, the risk for stroke increased by 24 percent in African-Americans, but only 8 percent in whites.

The difference in stroke risk may be linked to cultural and genetic factors. No matter the reason, African-Americans should closely monitor their blood pressure.

"The level of determination by clinicians and patients to get blood pressure under control needs to be heightened. It is important for everyone, but critical for African-Americans," says Dr. Howard.

This study was published in the journal Archives of Internal Medicine.

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Tips for Controlling Your Blood Pressure

Currently, one out of every three Americans suffers from high blood pressure, considered 140/90 mmHg or greater. These numbers are important because they're often the only warning sign of high blood pressure, which can lead to heart disease and stroke. The good news is that you can take action to lower them.

Medication and lifestyle changes can reduce high blood pressure. Follow these proven steps from the American Heart Association to control it:

  • Reach and maintain a healthy weight.

  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid foods high in saturated fat and cholesterol.

  • Reduce your sodium intake by eating less processed and fast food.

  • Engage in moderate exercise for at least 150 minutes a week. You can aim for about 30 minutes a day over at least five days. You can break up those 30 minutes into two 15-minute sessions or even three 10-minute sessions.

  • If you drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. That means no more than two drinks in any day for men and one for women.

  • If you smoke, take steps to quit.

  • Keep stress under control by taking short breaks throughout your day to relax.

  • If your doctor prescribes medication, take it as directed.

Always talk with your health care provider to find out more information.

Online Resources

(Our Organization is not responsible for the content of Internet sites.)

American Heart Association - What About African-Americans and High Blood Pressure?

FDA - High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)

National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute - What Is High Blood Pressure?