Heart disease is the No. 1 killer for all U.S. adults, and stroke is the No. 5 killer and a leading cause of disability. As frightening as those statistics are, the risks of getting those diseases are even higher for Black people. Historical and systemic factors play a major role in these statistics. Among them are adverse social determinants of health, the conditions in which a person is born and lives. The determinants include lack of access to health care and healthy foods, and other societal issues.
The good news is, Black people in the U.S. can improve their odds of preventing and beating these diseases by understanding the risks and taking simple steps to address them.
It is important to have a checkup and work with a health care professional on your specific risk factors and the things that you need to do to take care of your health. High blood pressure, overweight and obesity and diabetes are common conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Here’s how they affect Black people and some tips to lower your risk.
High blood pressure
The prevalence of high blood pressure in Black people in the U.S. is among the highest in the world. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. It can cause permanent damage to the heart before you even notice any symptoms, that's why it is often referred to as the "silent killer." Not only is high blood pressure more severe in Black people than white people, but it also develops earlier in life.
You can’t do anything about your family history, but you can control your blood pressure.
The No. 1 thing you can do is check your blood pressure regularly. A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 mm Hg. The first number is the systolic pressure when heart is contracting. The second is diastolic pressure in the arteries when the heart is relaxing. High blood pressure is when you have consistent systolic readings of 130 mm Hg or higher or diastolic readings of 80 mm Hg or higher. If you have high blood pressure, work with your health care professional to find the right medication and lifestyle changes that can help.
If you know your blood pressure is high, keeping track of changes is important. Check it regularly and notify your health care professional of changes in case your treatment needs to be adjusted.
Black people in the U.S. are disproportionately affected by obesity. They may live in areas without access to healthy foods, which will affect their diet. Obesity is a risk factor for heart disease and stroke and is linked to other health problems like diabetes and cancer.
If you’re carrying extra weight, focus on the quality of your diet throughout the day, not just during mealtime. Choosing wise snacks can be part of a healthy diet. Avoid high calorie snacks and sugar-sweetened beverages such as full-calorie sodas. Opt for water instead. The American Heart Association recommends limiting red meat in favor of lean meats such as fish or chicken, and watching portions on carbohydrate-heavy foods, such as pasta and rice. Look for whole-grain options instead.
Research shows that dietary patterns rich in fruits and vegetables, with the exception of white potatoes, are associated with a reduced risk of CVD. If you are overweight or obese, work with your health care professional to develop a plan to help you reach and maintain a healthy weight.
Diabetes is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and stroke, and Black people in the U.S. are more likely to have diabetes than non-Hispanic white people.
Type 2 diabetes is treatable and preventable, but many people don’t recognize the early warning signs. Or they may avoid seeking treatment.
For diabetes and other heart disease risks, regular exercise plays a key role – both in strengthening the cardiovascular system and burning extra calories.
The AHA recommends that adults get at least 150 minutes a week of moderate-intensity physical activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity, or a combination of both.