Black Women Had Higher Rates of High Blood Pressure

Hypertension was more common among black women than among black men and white women and men

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) African Americans have the highest rate of high blood pressure of all racial groups, but it often goes undetected, and among this population, women are more likely to have the condition.

In the United States, about one in three adults have high blood pressure (hypertension). If left untreated, the condition can lead to heart disease, stroke, heart failure, kidney failure and other health problems.

Compared to black men and white men and women, black women were more likely to have hypertension, and the condition was more likely to go undetected and untreated among African Americans, according to recent research.

"Get your blood pressure checked regularly."

For this study, Uchechukwu K. A. Sampson, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, and colleagues reviewed data on nearly 70,000 people from 12 southeastern states that make up “The Stroke Belt,” named because of the high incidence of stroke in this region.

Dr. Sampson and his team discovered that the high blood pressure rate was 64 percent among black women. The rates were lower among white women (52 percent) and black and white men (51 percent). Overall, more blacks (59 percent) had hypertension compared to whites (52 percent).

Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the artery walls as the heart pumps blood. High blood pressure is usually defined as higher than 140/90 millimeters of mercury.

In a blood pressure reading, the top number is called the systolic blood pressure, and it measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats (when the heart muscle contracts). The bottom number is called the diastolic blood pressure, and it measures the pressure in the arteries between heartbeats (when the heart muscle is resting between beats and refilling with blood).

This investigation also found that uncontrolled high blood pressure was two times more likely among blacks than whites. About one in three black men who had high blood pressure didn’t know they had the condition, compared to 28 percent of black women, 27 percent of white men and 17 percent of white women.

“For many years, the focus for high blood pressure was on middle-aged men who smoked; now we know better,” said Dr. Sampson in a press release. “We should look for it in everyone and it should be treated aggressively — especially in women, who have traditionally gotten less attention in this regard.”

These researchers also found that more than eight out of 10 individuals who knew they had high blood pressure were treating their condition with medication. About four out of 10 were treating their hypertension with at least two types of medicines, but only 29 percent were taking a diuretic. The authors emphasized that a diuretic is a suggested first-line medication to lower blood pressure.

“We have so many medications and evidence-based treatments, but we still face this problem,” Dr. Sampson said in a statement.

Based on these findings, he recommended that everyone be screened regularly for high blood pressure and make sure to review blood pressure readings as part of an annual check-up. If individuals have a high reading, they should check their blood pressure daily and follow up with their physician to make sure they are taking the right steps to reach healthy blood pressure levels.

The authors of this study also suggested that measures need to be taken to increase funding for programs that will educate people on the effective use of medications and the benefits of healthier eating and exercise.

This study was published at the end of December in Circulation: Cardiovascular Quality and Outcomes. PepsiCo Inc. and the National Cancer Institute funded the research. Dr. Sampson’s work was supported in part by the Harold Amos Medical Faculty Award of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

Review Date: 
January 1, 2014
Last Updated:
January 8, 2014