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Black History Month: Let's Combat Hypertension!

 “Silent Killer” Lurking in Lynn

African Americans targeted at higher rates than others

By Dr. Rachelle Darout

Do I have your attention?  Good.

There is a silent killer that lurks in our city, our state, and our nation.  Its name is hypertension, also known as high blood pressure.  Fifteen percent of all deaths in the United States list high blood pressure as a primary or contributing factor.  One in three American adults has this disease.

February is Black History Month, a perfect time for us to reflect on the many battles we have won, and to name those yet to come.  I want us to take on high blood pressure as a major battle for the health and well being of our African American Community.

High blood pressure among African Americans is much higher than the national average, at 41% of all adults.  Annually, 24% of African American deaths in the United States list heart disease as a primary cause of death, and high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart disease. 

What is high blood pressure?  Blood pressure is the measurement of how much force your heart exerts to pump blood through your body.  Your blood pressure is measured in two ways.  Systolic blood pressure measures how hard the heart is working when it is active.  Diastolic blood pressure measures how hard your heart is working when it is at rest.  A normal blood pressure reading is 120 systolic/80 diastolic.  High blood pressure occurs when these measurements are higher than normal.

Why is high blood pressure so bad for you?  High blood pressure over time can damage your heart, arteries, and other vital organs because they are all working harder than expected to pump blood through your body.  Like anything that is required to work harder than it was designed to for an extended period of time, these parts will wear out sooner than if your blood pressure were normal.  The result can be one of any number of serious health issues including heart attack, stroke, and kidney disease. 

High blood pressure is called a Silent Killer because in most people there are no symptoms!  Although some people experience dizziness or headaches, most people do not feel any indication that there is anything wrong with them.  In addition, while there are many risk factors including age, ethnicity, and lifestyle that contribute to high blood pressure, it often appears in those who have none of these risk factors.   The only way to find out is to have your blood pressure checked.  This is a regular part of primary care, so the most important thing you can do is to make sure you go to your regular checkups.  If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, you should visit your doctor for a quick check every six months to make sure it is under control.

How can African Americans combat high blood pressure?  It is true that African Americans are more likely to have hypertension than other Americans.  This is partly due to genetics.  There is nothing we can do about that.

But an equally important contributing factor is the way we eat.  Food is a deeply ingrained part of our family traditions.  Collard greens, mac-n-cheese, and fried chicken are called “soul food” for a good reason!  Do we need to give these things up?  No!  But we need to learn to limit them and turn to a healthier diet most of the time.  This means consuming less salt, caffeine, and alcohol; eating more fruits and vegetables and whole grains; and limiting fat intake.

Exercise is also important.  Did you know that just 30 minutes of moderate exercise a day can make a big difference in preventing or reducing high blood pressure?  I know we are all busy, but we can be creative about fitting exercise into our day.  Take a brisk walk at lunchtime, or park your car farther away from your office each day.  Anything you do is better than nothing!

When you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your whole family has high blood pressure!  This is especially true if you are the primary caretaker of your family.  It is just not reasonable to expect to change your diet and not that of your whole family.  You need support from your family, and guess what?  If you are at risk, they probably are too.  We can all benefit from a change of lifestyle. 

The good news?  High blood pressure is very treatable.  With a few lifestyle changes, combined with medication prescribed by your primary care doctor, you can live a long, productive, and healthy life!

Dr. Rachelle Darout is a Family Physician at Lynn Community Health Center who specializes in treating patients with chronic disease, such as hypertension and diabetes.  Lynn Community Health Center is committed to providing quality healthcare to Lynn and surrounding communities, and would like to take this opportunity to reach out to the African American Community.   If you are without a primary care physician please consider seeking your healthcare at the Lynn Community Health Center