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The Threat of Heart Disease & Stroke

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By American Heart Association – Dallas


Heart disease is the number one killer of all Americans and stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. As frightening as these statistics are, the risks of developing heart disease or stroke are even higher for African Americans. The good news is, we can improve our odds of preventing and beating these diseases by understanding the risk factors and by taking simple steps to address them. The most common conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke include high blood pressure (hypertension), obesity and diabetes.

Here’s a look at how each of these risk factors affect African-Americans and some tips on how to lower your individual risk:

High Blood Pressure (HBP)

Any reading at 140/90 or above increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because it can cause permanent damage to the heart before you even notice symptoms. Over time, if the force of the blood flow remains high, the tissue that makes up the arterial walls gets stretched beyond a healthy limit, causing damage.

More than 40 percent of non-Hispanic Blacks have high blood pressure. If you’re African American, there’s a good chance that you, a relative or an African American friend has the disease, also known as HBP or hypertension. Not only is HBP more severe in blacks than whites, but it also develops earlier in life. Research suggests African Americans may carry a gene that makes them more salt sensitive, which can increase the risk of high blood pressure.

If you know your blood pressure is high, keeping track of your numbers is vital. Check regularly, and notify your doctor of any changes in case treatment needs to be adjusted. We encourage you to join the American Heart Association’s blood pressure management program called Check. Change. Control. Your levels will be tracked over a four-month period. Throughout the monitoring period, participants are encouraged to increase their physical activity and eat healthy so as to manage their high blood pressure. Best of all, it is made possible through the help and encouragement of volunteer health mentors.


Seventy percent of American adults are either overweight or obese and one in three U.S. children are also either overweight or obese. According to a recent study by the Trust for America’s Health and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, African Americans and Hispanics are disproportionately affected by obesity with much of the disparity hinging on economics and access to healthy food and safe environments. Nearly half – 47.8 percent – of African-Americans and 42.5 percent of Hispanics are obese, compared with 32.6 percent of whites.


If you’re carrying extra weight, especially if a lot of it is around your waist, you’re at higher risk for high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol and diabetes. But don’t despair because you can reduce your risk for heart disease by successfully losing weight and keeping it off. Even losing as few as five or ten pounds can produce a dramatic blood pressure reduction.

To successfully lose weight and to keep it off, the American Heart Association recommends keeping a food journal and

understanding your recommended caloric intake based on your age, sex and physical activity level. Speaking of physical activity, the AHA also recommends walking at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week and eliminating sugar-sweetened drinks and desserts. Other helpful weight loss tips include limiting red meat in favor of lean meats such as chicken or fish, watching your portion size and being mindful of excessive snacking.


This is a condition that causes blood sugar to rise to dangerous levels. Most of the food you eat is turned into glucose, or sugar, that provides energy to your body. The pancreas, an organ near the stomach, produces a hormone called insulin that is responsible for carrying sugar from the blood into cells where it can be used as fuel. With diabetes, your body may not produce enough insulin or does not efficiently use the insulin it produces, resulting in increased levels of sugar in the blood stream. This causes two problems:  Your cells may be immediately starved for energy and over time, high blood glucose levels may damage organs.

African-Americans are nearly twice as likely to have diabetes as non-Hispanic whites. In fact, about 15 percent of all African-Americans age 20 and older have the disease. Like high blood pressure and obesity, physical activity and a healthy diet are the keys to preventing diabetes

– or to reversing it in those who have been diagnosed.

The American Heart Association provides a variety of resources available to you on your journey to improving your heart health. Heart 360, www.heart360.org Check. Change. Control. Also, visit www.heart.org.

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