Controlling Your High Blood Pressure

High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is a serious, treatable and preventable medical problem of key concern to African Americans. Why? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that almost one out of every five people with high blood pressure don't know that they have it. 

African Americans have more cases of high blood pressure than any other race or ethnic group. They get it at a younger age and it is more severe than for other groups. 

The CDC says that left untreated, high blood pressure is:

  • A major cause of stroke, heart attack, kidney problems, eye problems and death.
  • A leading cause of death for people with type 2 diabetes.
  • The major reason African Americans are eight times more likely to develop kidney failure than Caucasians.
  • A big reason why African Americans die at an earlier age. 

How Blood Pressure is Measured

Blood pressure is the force in the arteries when your heart beats. The strong “pulse” beat is called systolic pressure. It's the top number on your blood pressure reading. When your heart rests between beats, the pressure goes down. This is called the diastolic pressure. It is the bottom number on your blood pressure reading. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. Numbers between that and 139/89 mean you have prehypertension. Numbers over 140/90 mean you have high blood pressure. (Source:  The American Heart Association)

How to Prevent and Treat High Blood Pressure

Take charge of your health and work to keep your blood pressure at a normal level. First, get advice from your doctor about your individual case. In addition to anything your doctor recommends, these simple steps from the Centers for Disease Control will start you toward a healthier future.

  • Maintain a healthy weight. Obesity is a major risk factor for high blood pressure in African Americans. Lose weight if you need to. If you are a healthy weight, try not to gain.
  • Eat less salt and sodium. Limit total sodium to one teaspoon of salt each day. Avoid fast food and many canned or prepared foods, such as lunchmeat, fried chicken, TV dinners and frozen pizza. These are high in salt and sodium. Read food labels and opt for foods that have the least sodium or are salt free. Season your food with spices and herbs, lemon juice or salt substitutes instead of salt.   
  • Reduce fat and sugar in your diet. Both can raise your cholesterol level and weight. Choose lean meats, fish, low-fat dairy products, fresh fruits and vegetables, such as mustard and collard greens. Use sugar substitutes. Broil, bake, grill and roast foods instead of frying.
  • Get plenty of exercise. Get moving. Run, walk, and bike. A total of 30 minutes a day is enough. You do not even have to do it all at the same time. Take the stairs. Dance. Just move your body every chance you get.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking causes or complicates many medical problems, including high blood pressure.
  • Limit Your Alcohol. Have no more than two normal-sized drinks a day if you are a man, one if you are a woman.
  • Have Your Doctor Check Your Blood Pressure. Ask your doctor what your numbers are and what they mean. If you are pregnant, make sure you are under a doctor's care because high blood pressure can be dangerous for you and your baby.
  • Take your medicine. If your doctor prescribes blood pressure medication, make sure you understand how it works. Always remember to take it. Your life could depend on it. If you have a problem with the medication, tell your doctor right away so you can get one that works better for you. 

The Silent Killer

Remember that high blood pressure is also called the silent killer because most people don't know they have it. Having your blood pressure checked is easy, quick and painless, and it can save your life.

Click on the links below to learn more. 


The Centers for Disease Control   

US Department of Health and Human Services/National High Blood Pressure Education Program, What Every African American Should Know 

American Heart Association

This information is for education only. It is not medical advice. Please ask your doctor for advice about changes that may affect your health.

Reviewed by:

Richard L. Lane MD., Managing Medical Director, KY

Lynette Cooper RN CMCN  Legal Specialist Sr