the wrong foods.”
In 2000, a particularly stressful year for Green, he began to experience severe headaches. He put off going to the doctor because he didn’t have health insurance and opted to take aspirin instead. His headaches, however, became unbearable. “I started going to sleep with headaches and waking up with headaches that wouldn’t go away,” Green explains. In January 2001, he finally visited a clinic for a checkup.
The triage nurse took his blood pressure twice, then quickly summoned the head nurse. Green knew something was wrong. “The head nurse took my pressure and she told me I had to be hospitalized.” He was admitted that same day and was assigned a doctor who checked on him every 30 minutes to make sure he remained conscious. With a blood pressure of 220 over 190, Green could have had a stroke at any moment. A healthy blood pressure is usually at or below 140 over 90.
“In general, African Americans do not seek out medical care unless something goes wrong,” says Pennington. If Green had known that he fit the profile of someone who suffers from high blood pressure — African American, mid-40s, and a sedentary lifestyle with a family history of high blood pressure — he might have paid attention to his headaches earlier. Unfortunately, Green did not learn his full family history until his hospitalization.
“Very often, African Americans can have undiagnosed hypertension,” says Mieres. “Hypertension is a powerful risk factor for heart disease. The 40s is usually when heart disease starts manifesting in men.” Mieres advises both men and women to have an Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG), a test that measures the electrical activity of the heart, by age 40, in addition to a routine physical exam to screen for any signs of heart disease.
Green was put on Lotrel to keep his blood pressure down and Lipitor to control his cholesterol. He brought his weight down from 265 to 235 in three months by exercising regularly and removing salt and junk food from his diet. He limits salt intake and reads food labels for sodium and sugar content. “When I go out to eat, I check the salt limits. When I order french fries, I tell them no salt.”
Green was fortunate, but many African Americans are at risk for hypertension and are unaware of how serious the condition can become and what other ailments it can trigger. “African Americans have a genetic predisposition to hypertension,” says Mieres. Heart disease and stroke are the No.1 and 3 killers of African American men and women. She adds, “having an elevated blood pressure destroys the lining of the vessels that supply the heart and the vessels that supply the brain. The heart has to work much harder.” Preventative measures literally can be the difference between life and death.
Medical Tests and Screenings For Those in Their 40s
- Annual blood pressure check
- Cholesterol check
- Annual physical exam
- Bone density scan (women)
- Mammogram (women)
- Vision and blood tests
- Prostate cancer screening
- Colonoscopy (for people with a family history of colon cancer or polyps)
- Glucose screening (Type