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Knowing About High Blood Pressure

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Dear Dr. Levister: My father and brother died of stroke caused by high blood pressure. My friends say not to worry. They say there is no urgent need to know my own pressure or learn more about this disease because I don't fit the typical image of overweight, poor and stressed out. Is this true? YH

Dear YH: When it comes to your friends, run the other way as fast as you can. Knowledge is power and in this case it could save your life. Knowing your blood pressure and what causes hypertension (high blood pressure) particularly persons with a family history is extremely important. Sure, we all know about the perils of high blood pressure, or do we? Which of the basics do you know, and what do you know about your own?

The National Council on Aging recently conducted a survey of more than 2000 Americans over the age of 50 to see what they knew about high blood pressure, including its risks and causes. The Council found that nearly half of those surveyed do not know their systolic and diastolic blood pressure numbers.

In this group, only a quarter knew that the top number, the systolic figure, was as important indicator of high blood pressure, and more than two thirds had not discussed the importance of high blood pressure with a doctor or a nurse in the past twelve months. Forty-five percent of those surveyed described the typical image of a person with hypertension as overweight, overworked male with a short fuse.

Sound familiar? The truth is, high blood pressure affects people of all ages, races, social classes, sizes and shapes, women as well as men, and even children -- a total of more than 60 million Americans. Moreover, at least 20 million of them are currently on antihypertensive drugs, spending more on such medications (approximately 2.5 billion dollars a year) than on drugs for any other diagnosis.

Hypertension is known as the "silent killer" because it doesn’t produce any symptoms -- at least none that most people are aware of until considerable damage has already been done. Those with a family history of hypertension are twice as likely to develop it as others. For reasons not completely understood, Blacks -- especially males tend to develop high blood pressure earlier in life, and much more often with fatal results.

A lot of things can cause or aggravate high blood pressure to include family traits, high blood fat levels, diabetes or kidney disease, salt intake, emotional stress and obesity. There is an undercurrent of thought that one of the reasons Black males in America have a higher incidence of hypertension is because being a Black male in America is inherently stressful. Yet like your friends, many people still don't have a clue. When it comes to advice on your health, dump your friends and see your doctor or health care provider.

Remember we don't have a cure. Treatment to prevent the complications of stroke, heart attacks, and kidney failure, is for life.

Dr. Levister welcomes reader mail concerning their body but regrets that he is not able to answer individual letters. Your letters will be incorporated into the column as space permits. You may direct your letters to Dr. Levister in care of Black Voice News, P.O. Box 1581, Riverside, CA 92502. For more information about your Black health visit African American Health Network at www.aahn.com.

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