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UAB study finds blacks more aware of hypertension

BIRMINGHAM (AP) — Many health authorities thought for years that one of the reasons blacks had more strokes than whites was that blacks were unaware of the dangers of high blood pressure or failed to get treatment for the condition.

But in a surprising, preliminary finding, a study headed by a UAB researcher has discovered that blacks are more aware of high blood pressure than whites, and are more likely to be treated for it.

Researchers found that the big problem is that medications are not doing a very good job of controlling high blood pressure in blacks, said Dr. George Howard, chair of biostatistics at The University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Howard is heading an ongoing study titled "Reasons for Geographic and Racial Differences in Stroke." Howard said more research is needed to determine why medications aren't working as well in blacks, but the message so far is deadly serious and simple:

"If you're an African-American and you're being treated for your hypertension, make sure that it's under control. Go back to the doctor after you get your medication. We need to make sure that you're not only on medication but you're under control."

Often called the "silent killer," high blood pressure can cause stroke, heart attack, heart failure or kidney failure.

Systolic pressure is the pressure of the blood flow when the heart beats. Diastolic pressure is the pressure between heartbeats. High blood pressure, often called hypertension, is defined in an adult as having a systolic measurement above 140 or a diastolic measurement above 90. Doctors start getting concerned about blood pressure when the systolic exceeds 120 and the diastolic exceeds 80, a condition called prehypertension.

At first researchers were surprised that blacks were so aware of the problems associated with high blood pressure, and researchers were even more surprised to find that blacks were getting blood pressure medications. But, the researchers found, blood pressure in blacks just wasn't being controlled properly, even though they were taking medications.

There are several possible reasons under study, Howard said. They include:

  • Perhaps blacks aren't being treated as aggressively as whites. Sometimes it takes two or three medications to get blood pressure under control, Howard said. Maybe whites are getting more medications than blacks.
  • Perhaps whites go to the doctor more often and get more follow-up treatment for their high blood pressure, Howard said.
  • Perhaps blacks can't afford as many medications.
  • Perhaps blacks are getting less effective medications than whites.
  • And perhaps some blood pressure drugs are more effective for whites. "It could be that certain medications don't work as well in African-Americans," Howard said.

    Alabama has the nation's third-highest rate of high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control. A third of the state's residents have been told by a doctor that they have the condition.

    Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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