African Americans and High Blood Pressure

African Americans and High Blood Pressure

Forty-one percent of African Americans have high blood pressure. Find out why African Americans are at higher risk than other Americans.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects 72 million Americans – one in three adults. It is sometimes called the “silent killer” because there are no real symptoms. Almost a third of the people with high blood pressure don’t even know that they have it.

African Americans are at a higher risk for high blood pressure than people of other races. The reasons for this aren’t known, but as a group, black people respond differently to some blood pressure medications. They are also more sensitive to salt, which raises blood pressure.

What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure measures the strength of your blood as it is pumped through your blood vessels. When your heart pumps blood, blood pressure is at its highest. This is called systolic blood pressure. Between heartbeats, when your heart rests, your blood pressure drops. This is called diastolic blood pressure. The top number in your blood pressure reading is your systolic number and the bottom number is diastolic.

If your reading falls in the 120/80 to 139/89 range, you have pre-hypertension. If your reading is 140/90 or higher, you have high blood pressure.

Most people with high blood pressure have what is called essential hypertension. Others have secondary hypertension, which is caused by another medical condition. When that condition (such as kidney disease) is treated, blood pressure comes down.

Who is at risk for high blood pressure?

Our risk for developing high blood pressure increases as we age. Men are at a higher risk than women. Being overweight or inactive increases your risk. Smoking, drinking too much or getting too much salt also puts you at risk.

For black people, simply living in the U.S. increases the risk. Forty-one percent of black Americans have high blood pressure, compared with 27 percent of white Americans.

Many black Americans with lower incomes have poorer diets, poorer overall health and less access to medical care than other Americans. Because of this, they often wait to see a doctor for hypertension. By then, they may already have some organ damage.


Complications of hypertension are extremely serious and can include:

  • Heart disease
  • Stroke
  • Eye problems and blindness
  • Kidney disease
  • Dementia


The best ways to prevent high blood pressure include:

  • Exercising regularly
  • Getting to and staying at a healthy weight
  • Managing stress
  • Lowering the level of sodium in your food
  • Eating a balanced diet
  • Limiting alcohol consumption
  • Not smoking and avoiding secondhand smoke
  • Having frequent blood pressure checks

How is hypertension treated?
If you are found to have high blood pressure, your doctor will probably prescribe medication. The same things that prevent high blood pressure can treat it. Eating less salt, exercising more, losing weight, quitting smoking, limiting alcohol and managing stress can all help control high blood pressure.

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