Credit: Public Domain/CDC/Judy Schmidt/Public Health Image Library

February is American Heart Month and an excellent time to review heart health risks and guidelines, especially among members of the African-American and Latino communities.

Untreated and longstanding high blood pressure can lead to hypertensive heart disease, which can include heart failure, coronary artery disease and other conditions. HHD is the leading cause of death associated with high blood pressure for all Americans. High blood pressure also puts people at risk for experiencing a stroke.

Each year, approximately 100,000 home care patients in the U.S. report a prior stroke, and a recent study at the Visiting Nurse Service of New York Center for Home Care Policy & Research further shows that, at start of care, recurrent stroke risk is high for many patients and in particular African-Americans because of uncontrolled blood pressure. As a registered nurse providing care at home for high-risk patients with chronic heart failure, hypertensive heart disease and post-stroke, I know how important it is to work with these vulnerable patients and their families to help them make lifestyle changes and link them to continuous, responsive hypertension care. Here are a few guidelines for closing hypertensive heart health disparities in the African-American community.

Manage your diet

This one can be the most challenging, especially when your cultural eating habits conflict with healthy eating recommendations. It’s important to manage your cholesterol levels by reducing your daily fat intake gradually over time. Talk to your doctor or home health provider about establishing dietary goals that support healthy blood pressure. Even small changes to your diet can make a big difference in your health. Learn how to read food labels and become especially mindful of salt and sodium intake, which can have adverse effects on hypertension and diabetes, respectively.

Move a little

Just 15 to 30 minutes of light physical activity three to five days a week can help reduce your risk of stroke and heart disease. Small steps can lead to big progress if you just add a little activity to your life: walk to the mailbox or the corner bodega every day, get off one stop early and walk a few extra blocks if you ride the bus or subway, do stretches and “hall laps” at home to get started if you need to.

Keep a health journal

Take the time to write down all of your medications and any changes your doctor makes to each prescription. Don’t forget to write down over-the-counter medications you take, too, from baby aspirin to vitamins. Note how you feel each day, especially on days when you feel a little groggy, tired, sad or confused. This way you have a record of your health so every health professional on your care team can understand your full medical history at any time.