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cholesterol heart disease and african americans

Heart disease is the No. 1 killer for all Americans, and stroke is also a leading cause of death. As frightening as those statistics are the risks of getting those diseases are even higher for African-Americans.

The good news is, African-Americans can improve their odds of preventing and beating these diseases by understanding the risks and taking simple steps to address them

“Get checked, then work with your medical professional on your specific risk factors and the things that you need to do to take care of your personal health,” said Winston Gandy, M.D., a cardiologist and chief medical marketing officer with the Piedmont Heart Institute in Atlanta and a volunteer with the American Heart Association.

High blood pressure, obesity and diabetes are the most common conditions that increase the risk of heart disease and stroke. Here’s how they affect African-Americans and some tips to lower your risk.

The prevalence of high blood pressure in African-Americans is the highest in the world. Also known as hypertension, high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke, and 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 HBP more severe in blacks than whites, but it also develops earlier in life.

Research suggests African-Americans may carry a gene that makes them more salt sensitive, increasing the risk of high blood pressure. Your healthcare provider can help you find the right medication, and lifestyle changes can also have a big impact.

“You can’t do anything about your family history, but you can control your blood pressure,” Dr. Gandy said.

If you know your blood pressure is high, keeping track of changes is important. Check it regularly, and notify your doctor of changes in case treatment needs to be adjusted, Dr. Gandy said. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, he recommends checking it every two years.

“The No. 1 thing you can do is check your blood pressure regularly,” he said.