High blood pressure has been dubbed as the “Silent Killer” because it often does not show any symptoms until it causes severe health damage that can result in death unless treated.
Also known as hypertension, this health condition is prevalent among the Black community, as African American men and women are more likely to suffer from this dangerous health condition. This is mainly due to historical and medical reasons, according to Dr. Kiyumi V. Heard, a family medicine physician at Kaiser Permanente Orange County.
“There isn’t one particular factor as to why hypertension is prevalent within the Black community,” Dr. Heard explained. “Instead, the reasons why that’s the case can be traced to historical, cultural and lifestyle factors. Regardless of that, however, it’s important to know that hypertension is treatable, and we all need to pay attention to it. That’s because if left untreated, it can cause stroke, heart attack and chronic kidney disease, among others.”
Kaiser Permanente recognizes hypertension to be as 140/90 and above. Some of the reasons why high blood pressure is prevalent among the Black community include limited access to quality health care, food deserts that result in less availability of healthy food, residence in areas with less clean air and water, as well as stress caused by systemic racism and other inequities.
“Hypertension is prevalent among Black men and women because many of them often experience all these challenges from childhood to adulthood,” Dr. Heard said.
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What Can You Do?
If you suffer from hypertension, Dr. Heard recommends that your first priority should be to eat more healthy food, such as adopting the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet.
The DASH diet is rich in vegetables, fruits and whole grains. It includes fat-free or low-fat dairy products, fish, poultry, beans and nuts. It limits foods that are high in salt, saturated fat such as fatty meats, and full-fat dairy products. She also emphasized the importance of exercise, such as brisk walking for about 30 minutes five days a week.
In addition, Dr. Heard encourages the African American community to pursue and appreciate the positive in life to help offset stress and mental health struggles that contribute to high blood pressure. She explained there’s a strong correlation between feeling anxious and depressed and having hypertension. “If your mental health is suffering, please seek professional help as that will help to lower your stress level, which in turn can help improve your blood pressure,” she said.
When Should You Seek Medical Attention?
If you adopt healthy lifestyle changes and your high blood pressure persists, Dr. Heard said seeing your health care provider to consider medication is a viable option. Dr. Heard emphasized the importance of African Americans monitoring their blood pressure regularly at home. They should also schedule an annual physical with their physician, at which time a discussion related to medication should occur if hypertension exists.
“Hypertension is a serious health condition, but it’s absolutely reversible,” she noted. “However, you must pay attention to it and treat it to prevent an adverse effect on your health. It definitely should not be ignored.”
Kaiser Permanente offers valuable information related to how to maintain a good blood pressure.