08 December 2011
In the United States, heart disease is the leading killer among most ethnic groups. Three years ago, over a quarter of all deaths in the U.S. were attributed to heart disease. The Office of Minority Health says that African American men are 30 percent more likely to die from heart disease than white males.
What’s more, 32 percent of adult African Americans have high blood pressure compared with 22.5 percent of whites. High blood pressure makes the heart work too hard to pump blood, which puts pressure on their blood vessels.
Sylvester Ejeh, M.D., a cardiologist with Cumberland Cardiology in Fayetteville, says lifestyle choices put the African American population at greater risk for developing cardiovascular disease (CVD) and high blood pressure than others.
“African Americans are less likely to engage in physical activity,” says Dr. Ejeh, ”and are more likely to be obese and have diabetes, which are all risk factors for CVD.”
While one cannot change his or her race, there are plenty of factors that can be treated or controlled to help lessen one’s risk of suffering from heart disease.
Cigarette smokers are two to four times more likely to develop heart disease than non-smokers, according to the American Heart Association. Yet 24 percent of black men and 17.2 percent of black women smoke.
“One year after quitting, the risk of heart attack and death from coronary heart disease is reduced by half,” says Dr. Ejeh. “Several years after quitting, it approaches that of non-smokers.”
Controlling your high blood pressure and diabetes can lower your chances of developing CVD. If you suffer from either of these conditions, consult your physician about how they could affect your cardiovascular health.
Don’t forget that daily exercise can go along way in preventing CVD too! Dr. Ejeh advises taking a brisk twenty-minute walk at least four times per week. Also consider having a glass of wine with dinner, as daily consumption of small amounts of alcohol can help.
“One drink for women and up to two drinks per day for men can lower the risk of CVD,” says Ejeh. “However heavy alcohol consumers have the highest risks of CVD, so be sure to exercise moderation!”
Another key to lower your risk for CVD is to decrease the amount of stress in your life. Go out with your friends, enjoy quality time outside with your family or spend time at your church worshipping.
“Being spiritually active and reducing negative stress by attending a place of worship is an integral part of African American culture and can go a long way in preventing heart disease,” says Dr. Ejeh.
And just in case you need one more way to prevent CVD, add a little laughter to your day!
“Laughter is a good medicine,” says Ejeh. “It’s great for getting your heart rate up and putting a smile on your face!”
African Americans and High Blood Pressure
In the U.S., one in three adults has high blood pressure. Of those affected, 70 percent don’t do a good job of controlling it, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In addition, one-third of sufferers don’t even know they have the condition because it has no symptoms.
But the damage it causes is certainly real. The average adult heart beats 100,000 times a day. If you have high blood pressure, every one of those beats can damage the delicate blood vessels in your body.
More than 7,600 African Americans die from stroke and heart disease each year. But high blood pressure is treatable if you follow medical advice and make simple lifestyle changes. However, many sufferers ignore their high blood pressure.
Hilda Graham, 54, of Fayetteville, was diagnosed with high blood pressure 10 years ago during a routine doctor’s office visit. She’s been taking medication ever since with great results.
“I pretty much live a normal life,” Graham says. “I take my medication daily and I try to manage my stress levels, which has worked out fairly well.”
Sharon Mitchell, M.D., of Fayetteville Family Medical Care, is Graham’s doctor. She says prescribing medication is a routine practice for treating high blood pressure.
“Depending on how high the blood pressure is, medication therapy is tried for a couple of months,” she says. “But if the patient is borderline, I’ll let them try to lower their blood pressure through diet and exercise first.”
So how is high blood pressure defined? A reading below 120/80 mmHg is considered normal. Readings above 140/90 mmHg is considered high blood pressure, and anything between 120/80 mmHg and 139/89 mmHg is considered borderline hypertension.
There are five main classes of drugs used to lower blood pressure. Each uses a different approach and has varying degrees of success and side effects:
• Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors lower a chemical you make in your blood stream that narrows blood vessels. It’s commonly used by patients who have heart failure or diabetes, but should not be used if you have certain kidney or artery problems, or if you are pregnant.
• Angiotensin Receptor Blockers (ARB) block the effect of angiotensin II on the blood vessel walls. They have side effects similar to ACE inhibitors.
• Calcium-channel blockers affect the way calcium is used in blood vessels and heart muscle, essentially relaxing the blood vessels.
• Diuretics increase the amount of salt and fluid you pass out of your urine. This helps reduce the fluid pressure in your body.
• Beta-blockers work by slowing the heart rate and reducing the force of the heart, thus lowering blood pressure. People with asthma, chronic pulmonary disease or certain types of heart or blood vessel problems should not take beta-blockers.
Dr. Mitchell says patients often require a combination of drugs to ultimately lower their blood pressure, but treatment outcomes are usually good.
“We try to tailor the medication so it doesn’t affect your lifestyle,” she says, “but if you don’t get high blood pressure under control, you can end up with a lot of problems in the end.” •
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