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African American Health

Why is hypertention more common in black men?

01/10/2001

Question:

Why is hypertention more common in african american males?

Answer:

The most likely cause for the high frequency and severity of hypertension in African Americans is genetic. African Americans are more sensitive to salt, i.e. their blood pressure increases more with salt intake. They also respond to stress with more elevation of blood pressure than other ethnic groups.

Of all population groups, young African American men are the most sensitive to the bad effects of hypertension, such as stroke and kidney failure. Young women have high estrogen levels which seem to be protective. African American women develop similar high risks for the complications of high blood pressure after menopause when estrogen levels drop. In fact, African American women are overall at slightly greater risk for stroke and heart disease than African American men.

In addition to genetic influences, there are factors such as cigarette smoking, obesity, high salt intake and possibly stress that can cause high blood pressure. It is possible that African Americans respond to these factors with more elevation of blood pressure than do others.

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Response by:

Max C Reif, MD Max C Reif, MD
Professor of Medicine
Director of Hypertension Section
College of Medicine
University of Cincinnati