Why African-Americans Have Elevated Rates of High Blood Pressure

African American mother and daughterCompared to Caucasians and Hispanics, African Americans have a higher risk of developing high blood pressure, an important risk factor for heart disease.

New research published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology: Cardiovascular Imaging shows that elevated rates of high blood pressure in African Americans may be caused by increased stiffness or rigidity in the aorta. The aorta is the primary blood vessel that carries blood from the heart to the rest of the body. A stiffer and less elastic aorta makes it harder for the heart to pump blood into the aorta and provide the body with the needed oxygen and nutrients. These changes in the structure and function of your aorta increase your risk of high blood pressure and heart disease.

This study examined a multi-ethnic group of 2,500 patients to assess ethnic and racial differences in the aorta. The researchers used two different methods to measure aortic stiffness. The results of both methods agreed and the researchers concluded that African Americans had greater aortic rigidity than Hispanics or whites. In addition, the results also found that Hispanics had stiffer aortas than whites.

Why? There are several reasons for the observed increase in aortic rigidity in African Americans, namely diet and genetics. Dietary differences that may contribute to aortic stiffness are increased levels of sodium intake and decreased levels of potassium. Genetic factors include genes that regulate collagen, a key protein found in connective tissue in the walls of blood vessels. It is important to understand why African Americans have an elevated risk of high blood pressure because high blood pressure is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke, and heart disease.

Reducing high blood pressure is an important step towards lowering your risk of heart disease. Here are some tips to help you lower your blood pressure:

  • Monitor your blood pressure daily
  • Limit salt intake
  • Increase potassium intake by eating bananas
  • Exercise regularly and stay active
  • Reduce stress through yoga and meditation techniques
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Do not smoke
  • Take your blood pressure medication, if prescribed

Remember, research shows the genetic risk of heart disease can be cut in half through a heart-healthy lifestyle. Understanding your risk is the first step towards keeping your heart healthy. Learn about your blood pressure and ask your cardiologist any questions you may have.

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