|Samantha Wein M.D.|
Contrary to what the name might imply, “hypertension” isn’t defined by overly tense muscles. It’s a measurement of how quickly blood is being pumped into your heart and out to your arteries and organs, and the pressure needed to achieve that. Too high or too low of a pressure gradient can lead very quickly to heart failure and other fatal complications.
If you’re Black, the prevalence of hypertension in our demographic means there’s a good chance an older relative and their struggles with the condition made you familiar with some of the symptoms and pitfalls. If you’re a Black man, read on and be informed- according to the Center for Disease Control, hypertension affects 1 in 3 American adults and over half of them are Black or African American. Affliction rates hover at around 54% for Black women and a troubling 59% for our men.
“There’s a multitude of factors- genetic, lifestyle and possibly systemic- that contribute to hypertension in the Black community,” says Dr. Samantha Wein, M.D. with Ascension Medical Group. We start screening for blood pressure at around age 3 at your child’s yearly well child check. Most common causes of hypertension in kids under 12 years of age include congenital, heart and kidney conditions, over age 12 we look more at lifestyle habits, obesity and family history of hypertension”. When medical rapport is scarce in a community, even common and treatable conditions like hypertension are subject to misinformation and misconceptions that might keep people from coming in to seek treatment. Hypertension is by no means a death sentence, but understanding a few things about the condition early-on can make a big difference in managing symptoms and maintaining balance with your blood pressure.
Dr. Wein says that there are quite a few misconceptions about the cause of hypertension. For instance, high salt intake is not the only cause of hypertension.
“When people think of high blood pressure and related conditions they typically think of salty foods as the culprit, but hypertension isn’t always about salt content. Certain hormone imbalances, anxiety, kidney issues or medications that are treating other conditions could also be at fault. Alcohol and tobacco are high on the list of things to avoid if you’re trying to avoid high blood pressure. Cutting or decreasing salt from your diet will definitely help with the treatment of hypertension, but that is not always enough,” Dr. Wein says.
Weight loss and exercise are also great contributors to the management and treatment of hypertension, especially if hypertension runs in your family and you are trying to be proactive in reducing your risk of acquiring out of control blood pressure. Dr. Wein says she always tells her patients to exercise at least 30 minutes a day as recommended by the American Heart Association and aim for possibly losing 1 pound a week.
Along with a combination of diet and exercise, hypertension can be managed with a regimen of medicine. According to the CDC, the most effective treatments on the market today work by causing the body to get rid of water and salt, relaxing blood vessels, making the heart beat with less force and blocking nerve activity that restricts veins and arteries. This lowers the systolic and diastolic (active heartbeats versus the pauses in between them) numbers that make up blood pressure readings and reduces wear and tear on the cardiovascular system.
Dr. Wein says people often delay getting help with hypertension due to being afraid of having to take “a multitude of pills every day for the rest of their lives” and this is another misgiving that should be dispelled.
“Unless the situation is critical, it doesn’t take that much or very long to bring everything back into balance. Following instructions from your doctor is tantamount to success, so having an honest relationship with your physician is key. Hiding symptoms or downplaying the severity because they’re afraid of more pills only hurts the patient in the long run,” Dr. Wein says.
Dr. Wein also says she’s seen an increase in COVID-related hypertension, but again cautions people not to panic. “I have seen a few cases where COVID caused a weird fluctuation in a patient’s blood pressure, but it was relatively easy to rectify.”
The American Heart Association published a scale to compare readings, raging from normal to elevated to hypertensive crisis. For people who might be experiencing symptoms of hypertension- dizziness, chest and limb pain, palpitations, headaches, etc.- blood pressure can be measured easily at home with a cuff, and Dr. Wein allows that some natural methods and diets can be helpful in combating hypertension. But as always, the best advice is going to come from a doctor, especially when it comes to something as important as your heart.
Get more health information and find a doctor near you by visiting ascension.org/michigan or calling 866-501-DOCS (3627)