Nonwhites have more high blood pressure

By Jae Hong, MD, Summit Cardiology, UW Northwest Hospital

Jae Hong

It’s hard to believe, but today, about 76.4 million adults in the United States have been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Some studies have shown that Asian Americans, along with African Americans, Mexican Americans, American Indians and native Hawaiians are at a greater risk of high blood pressure than Caucasians. Although heredity plays a major role, this is partly due to higher rates of obesity and diabetes. There are also gender-related risk patterns: more men are at risk of high blood pressure until age 45, from ages 45 to 64 both men and women are at equal risk, and after age 65 more women are at risk. Hypertension can lead to heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, and death if not treated appropriately. You can’t control your age, sex, race, and family history, but you can reduce the risk of high blood pressure through diet, exercise, and regular blood pressure screenings.

Poor diet and inadequate physical activity are the two factors that you can correct to reduce your hypertension. Many know to avoid diets high in calories, fats, and sugars, but a less known fact is that salty diets can be as dangerous to heart health. Most children and adolescents today eat too much salt (more than 1,500 mg per day), putting them at risk for cardiovascular diseases as they get older. Too much sodium in the diet may also lead to increased risk for stroke, heart failure, osteoporosis, stomach cancer, and kidney disease. Poor diet and lack of exercise make it easier to become overweight or obese, and this can increase your risk of high blood pressure. Physical activity itself, even for those at a healthy weight, is important in that it improves overall heart health and circulation.

Knowing your numbers is another great way to reduce your risk of high blood pressure. Starting at age 20, the American Heart Association recommends a blood pressure screening at your regular healthcare visit or once every two years, if your blood pressure is higher than 120/80 mmHg. A single high reading does not necessarily mean that you have high blood pressure. However, if readings are regularly above that threshold, you may be diagnosed with prehypertension. It is time to make lifestyle changes to avoid hypertension (regular readings at 140/90 or above), which would often require major lifestyle changes and may require medications. For people 60 years or older, there is strong evidence to treating blood pressure greater than 150/90 mmHg.

Many people are unaware of how easy it is to get a blood pressure reading besides at doctor visits. Most pharmacies and many health fairs have either kiosks or blood pressure cuffs available for free blood pressure screenings.

The National Asian Pacific Center on Aging (NAPCA) and the American Heart Association are hosting the Senior Wellness Fair on Wednesday, April 30, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the International District/Chinatown Community Center, located at 719 8th Ave. S. in Seattle. The event is free with a light heart-healthy lunch provided.  It will be a great way to join friends and get to know important health numbers by taking advantage of free readings for blood pressure, blood glucose, cholesterol, and body mass index (a measure of body fat based on height and weight). I’ll be there with pharmacist Nancy Lee to talk about the seven keys to a healthy heart and discuss herbal medicines. There will be Chinese, Korean, and Vietnamese translators available. (end)

For more information about the Senior Wellness Fair, contact Wendy Zheng at the American Heart Association, 206-834- 8654, or Nelson Tang at NAPCA, 206-322-5272.

Dr. Jae Hong is an interventional cardiologist at UW Northwest Hospital in Seattle, and volunteers for the American Heart Association’s Health Equity program.

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