May is National High Blood Pressure Awareness Month, which makes it a good time to recognize a serious health concern for the Black community: According to stats from the American Heart Association (AMA), Black Americans have the highest rates of high blood pressure in the world.
The AMA concluded that over 50% of Black adults will develop high blood pressure, also known as hypertension (HBP) earlier in life. This condition is considered a “silent killer” among healthcare professionals.
The AMA notes that Black people face “disproportionately high rates” of obesity and diabetes, which can increase the risk for high blood pressure. The AMA also recognizes that a number of “historical and systemic factors” play into these risks and can increase an individual’s social and economic stress, especially among Black and brown people.
“I’d say just over 4 million adults [in the state] are being diagnosed with high blood pressure,” said Johanne Morne, deputy commissioner of health equity and human rights at the New York State Department of Health. “When we talk about disparities or distinctions between races, in common with many health professions, we do see increased rates of diagnosis among individuals who identify as Black, as well as Hispanic.”
Morne, who is 50 years old, had her own bouts with HBP when she was diagnosed with breast cancer back in 2015.
“Every time I walked into a doctor’s office, my blood pressure would go over 200,” said Morne.
The baseline for most people is 120/80 in terms of a normal heart reading, she noted. She is currently in remission, takes medication to manage her blood pressure, and gets regular screenings.
Morne said that the “social determinants” of health, such as access to food, nutrition, and healthcare, definitely affect the function of the body and heart.
RELATED: High blood pressure plagues many Black Americans. Combined with COVID, it’s catastrophic
“If you think about the full self, think of things that contribute to our stress,” said Morne. “If we live in communities that are not feeling safe to us, then that contributes to stress.”
Morne said that chronic HBP is based on blood and heart beats: When the heart pumps oxygenated blood into a body’s circulatory system, it creates pressure through arteries, veins, and capillaries. If the workload for the heart and blood vessels remains high for too long, the network is damaged, which could eventually lead to an arrhythmia, heart attack, and stroke.
“Most often, high blood pressure doesn’t have symptoms. It’s when you have very high blood pressure that you start to see headaches. Others report blurred vision, and there may be chest pains,” said Morne.
If not controlled and monitored, HBP can also lead to heart failure, kidney disease, and even death, according to the AMA.
“Adults are busy, but if there was ever a month for us to be reminding people about the fact that they matter, and they matter enough to take the time to do these screenings and check in, then we would definitely have done well,” said Morne.
The AMA recommends having a healthy weight, diet, and exercise regimen to help lower blood pressure on a personal level. In affected neighborhoods, the AMA advocates for more access to “social support, safe environments, and affordable, high-quality medical care and medications” to help communities of color become better at managing blood pressure.
Ariama C. Long is a Report for America corps member and writes about politics for the Amsterdam News. Your donation to match our RFA grant helps keep her writing stories like this one; please consider making a tax-deductible gift of any amount today by visiting https://bit.ly/amnews1.