African Americans and heart disease

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Managing high blood pressure

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is more common in African Americans and can begin as early as childhood. Researchers believe one of the reasons African Americans are prone to high blood pressure may be due to an increased sensitivity to salt in their diet.

Other risk factors for high blood pressure include:

  • A family history of high blood pressure
  • Being overweight or not exercising much
  • Drinking too much alcohol
  • Smoking
  • Having other diseases such as diabetes
  • Age

Why is high blood pressure a serious health problem?

Photo of a man and a womanHigh blood pressure strains your blood vessels and your heart so it has to work harder to push blood on every heartbeat. This can lead to an enlarged heart and heart failure, or a heart attack. The high pressure in the blood vessels can also reduce blood flow to the brain, resulting in a stroke. That’s why it’s so important to treat high blood pressure early and bring it down to normal levels as quickly as possible.

How can I lower my blood pressure?

Find out the numbers from your tests and your target range. If your blood pressure is too high, your doctor may recommend medications and lifestyle changes to bring it into normal range.


Most people with hypertension start by taking one or more medications to lower the blood pressure and protect you from the effects of high blood pressure (such as heart attack and stroke). These medications could include a diuretic such as hydrochlorothiazide, an angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inibitor such as lisinopril, or a beta blocker such as metoprolol. You may also need other medications. You’ll get the best results from your medicine by following your doctor’s instructions. If you need help staying on schedule or coping with possible side effects, try these tips.

Lifestyle changes

In addition to medication, simple diet and lifestyle changes will help lower and keep your blood pressure in normal range.


You don’t have to go on a special diet to see a difference in your blood pressure — just try to cook at home more often and cut back on salt and fat. The American Heart Association offers these tips for eating healthy:

  • Limit fast food and convenience foods to once a week or less and processed foods and meats (such as canned, packaged, or frozen meals, chips, pickles, salt pork, hot dogs, sausage or lunch meats) to no more than 5 servings a week.
  • Use herbs, spices, vinegar, or lemon juice, citrus zest, or chilies or salt-free seasoning mixes add flavor to your food. Check out the DASH diet for more suggestions.
  • Cook with lower fat oils such as sunflower, canola, or olive oil instead of butter.
  • Eat several servings of vegetables and fruit each day. If you can’t eat fresh vegetables, use frozen ones. Avoid canned, processed, and preserved vegetables, which often have a lot of sodium.
  • Eat grilled, baked, or broiled fish at least twice a week.
  • Compare the sodium (salt) content on the Nutrition Facts label of similar products (for example, different brands of tomato sauce) and choose the products with less sodium.
  • Choose whole grain foods.
  • Use plain fat-free or low-fat dairy products instead of butter, whole milk, or heavy cream.
  • Remove skin from chicken before cooking.

Other lifestyle changes

  • Maintain a healthy weight to lighten the load on your heart.
  • Limit alcohol to no more than 1 drink each day for women, and no more than 2 drinks each day for men.
  • If you smoke, make a plan to quit.
  • If you have diabetes, keep your blood sugar under control.
  • Try to get moderate aerobic exercise — such as walking — at least 30 minutes on most days.

How often do I need to have my blood pressure tested?

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart disease — and you may not experience any symptoms. The only way to tell whether you have high blood pressure is to have it measured. This is done during most doctor visits. Ask your doctor how often you should have your blood pressure checked and whether you should monitor it at home.

The outlook

High blood pressure poses a serious health risk to the African American community, but the good news is it can be managed. Just remember the keys are:

  • Follow a healthy lifestyle
  • Check in with your doctor
  • Take medications as prescribed
  • Get your blood pressure checked as your doctor suggests

Reviewed by: Amey R. Kulkarni, MD, June 2019

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