Facts About Hypertension, Heart Health, and Blood Pressure

Statistics show that African Americans develop high blood pressure at younger ages than other groups, and African-Americans are more likely to develop complications associated with hypertension.

Today more than 40% of African American men and women have hypertension and many of them don’t even know it.

To raise awareness of hypertension, Mocha Man Style publisher, Frederick J. Goodall, interviewed Dr. Sarah Song, Neurologist at Rush University Medical Center.

She shared advice on how black men can take control of their health by knowing their blood pressure numbers, getting regular check-ups, and adjusting their lifestyles.

Mocha Man Style: What do my blood pressure numbers mean? Should I be more concerned with one or the other?

Dr. Song: Blood pressure is expressed as a measurement with two numbers, with one number on top (systolic) and one on the bottom (diastolic).

The top number refers to the amount of pressure in your arteries during the contraction of your heart muscle.

The bottom number refers to your blood pressure when your heart muscle is between beats.

Both numbers are important in determining the state of your heart health.

Numbers greater than the ideal range indicate that your heart is working too hard to pump blood to the rest of your body.

MMS: Are there any symptoms of hypertension?

Dr. Song: High blood pressure may not present with any symptoms, which is why it’s commonly called the “silent killer”.

Sometimes, the first sign that someone has high blood pressure is a major cardiac event like a heart attack or stroke.

This is why paying attention to your blood pressure numbers regularly is so important.

It helps you stay ahead of any potential issues, so you can work with your physician to be more proactive about your care and lifestyle habits.

MMS: How can high blood pressure affect my health?

Dr. Song: High blood pressure is the leading risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

In fact, patients with high blood pressure are 1.5 times more likely to suffer a stroke compared to those in a healthy range.

Hypertension also causes damage to the lining of blood vessels, which can contribute to narrowed or clogged arteries.

Hypertension can also lead to damage to your kidneys and eyes, affect your bone density and sleep, and notably, high blood pressure can also cause erectile dysfunction.

MMS: What can people do to prevent hypertension?

Dr. Song: There are a number of healthy ways to reduce your risk of hypertension.

Start with a healthy diet – reduce your salt intake and focus on balanced meals.

Exercise has also been shown to reduce blood pressure, and regular exercise can help reduce your risk of hypertension. Just 30 minutes of exercise each day can reduce your risk significantly.

Reducing alcohol and caffeine intake and quitting smoking will also help to bring down high blood pressure.  

And finally, one of the most important ways to prevent hypertension is to monitor your blood pressure – if you know your numbers, you’ll know if you need to make these lifestyle changes that can positively impact your blood pressure.

This is especially important if you have a genetic predisposition to hypertension, or a family history of the condition, to know your numbers and make better health decisions to reduce your risk.

MMS: At what point should someone consider taking blood pressure medication?

Dr. Song: Everyone is different, so medication isn’t always the best option for someone’s needs. You should always consult with your doctor to see which options are right for you.

MMS: What kind of medications are available? Are there any side effects?

Dr. Song: There are several types of blood pressure medications available, and your doctor can help you decide which is right for your needs. Here are a few of the most common types:

  • Diuretics: These medications help to reduce sodium levels and water to better control blood pressure
  • Beta-blockers: This type of medication reduces the heart rate, which is helpful for lowering blood pressure
  • ACE Inhibitors: This type of drug inhibits a chemical that causes arteries to become narrow, and allows blood vessels to relax

These medications have been associated with side effects like fatigue, higher blood sugar, and weakness. It’s best to decide with your doctor which option would work best for you.

MMS: Are there ways to reduce blood pressure without taking medications?

Dr. Song: If you’re in the hypertensive range, you should first consult your physician to determine a plan that works best for you. The early stages of hypertension can often be managed with simple lifestyle tweaks.

First, know your blood pressure numbers.

Monitor your blood pressure regularly to track your heart health trends accurately.

Do you tend to be on the high side at night, or in the mornings? Are your average readings generally normal, with one or two spikes due to stressful events?

Having more accurate data is the best way to help your physician know the total picture – leading to better treatment plans and better outcomes.

Second, implement lifestyle changes.

Eating a healthier diet, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking, managing stress, and reducing alcohol intake can all make a big difference.

These are active ways within your control that you can help to normalize your blood pressure numbers and reduce your risk.

According to the National Stroke Association, moderate exercise, such as a brisk walk, for 30 minutes two or more times a week can help prevent a stroke.

All physical activity makes a difference – break it up into 10 to 15-minute segments if needed, to reach the full recommended 150 minutes for the week.

Higher physical activity levels have also been found to lower stress, another risk factor for stroke.

Third, talk with your doctor regularly.

Having an ongoing dialogue with your physician about your heart health and blood pressure is really the best way to know if you are having a good handle on your condition, or if your treatment plan needs to be tweaked.

Share your blood pressure trends with him/her regularly and let your doctor know if there have been major changes in your life or health that could affect your condition.

There are now heart health apps available that help you store, track and share your heart health data with ease, such as the Omron Connect App – it links with all connected Omron blood pressure monitors, so you can store your readings, track them over time and share them electronically with your physicians.

MMS: Is there anything else you’d like people to know about hypertension, heart health, and overall wellness?

Dr. Song: Hypertension is a major risk factor for many other diseases, most of which are highly preventable.

Knowing your numbers is the best way to take care of your heart. If you don’t know your numbers, you won’t know if you are at a higher risk of a serious cardiac event like a heart attack or stroke.

Purchasing a blood pressure monitor for yourself to use at home will be one of the best investments you’ll ever make for your own heart health.

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