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High Blood Pressure a Serious Health Threat to Black Americans

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a serious problem in the black community – so much so that there is an International Society on Hypertension in Blacks (ISHIP). Blacks develop high blood pressure earlier in life and have higher average blood pressures than whites. Hypertension rates among blacks in the US are among the highest in the world, with more than 40 percent of black Americans suffering from high blood pressure.

The ISHIP has issued a statement calling for earlier intervention and more aggressive treatment of hypertension in blacks. The statement contained two main updates to the Society's 2003 suggestions: lowering the threshold at which to start treatment, and moving more quickly from a single-drug therapy to multi-drug therapy if blood pressure doesn't drop quickly.

"The majority of patients of any race, and certainly African Americans, are going to need more than one drug to be consistently controlled below their goal," says the statement's lead author Dr. John Flack, adding, "The debate in the medical community over which single drug is best overwhelms the most pressing question: Which blood pressure drugs work best together?". To assist doctors in choosing the best combination of blood pressure medication, the ISHIP is releasing a combination-drug chart recommending what it believes research shows to be the most effective multi-drug options.

Blood pressure is measured by systolic pressure (when the heart beats) over diastolic pressure (when the heart is at rest). A reading of below 120/8o is considered normal. A reading of 140/90 or more is considered high, and the starting point for starting blood pressure drug treatment. The updated guidelines suggest blacks with no history of heart disease, organ damage or diabetes should begin treatment when their readings reach 135/85, and those with cardiovascular disease, organ damage, diabetes or kidney disease start blood pressure drugs at readings of 130/80.

High blood pressure is known as "the silent killer" because it has no symptoms. The only way to detect hypertension is to have your blood pressure checked regularly. Left untreated, high blood pressure can damage the body's blood vessels, damaging organs like the heart, kidneys, eyes and even the brain. Prolonged hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and blindness.

It's not clearly understood what leads to high blood pressure, and ninety to ninety-five percent of hypertension has no known cause. It can't be cured, but can be treated with diet, exercise and blood pressure medication. Those with high blood pressure can also benefit from losing weight, quitting smoking, and limiting alcohol intake if necessary.

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High blood pressure, known as "the silent killer", occurs more often and causes more serious complications in blacks than in whites. Four out of ten black Americans suffer from high blood pressure, but many of them don't know it.

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