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High Blood Pressure in Young Black Women Sends Stroke Risks Soaring
  • Posted February 1, 2024

High Blood Pressure in Young Black Women Sends Stroke Risks Soaring

Black American women have much higher rates of high blood pressure than white women, and it's especially deadly if hypertension sets in before the age of 35, new research shows.

Black women diagnosed with high blood pressure before the age of 35 had triple the odds of suffering a stroke, compared to Black women without hypertension, the study found.

“This research was motivated by the glaring disparity I have seen in my own practice. Strokes are occurring at younger ages among my patients who identify as Black and among women,” study lead author Dr. Hugo Aparicio said in an American Heart Association (AHA) news release.

“Early-onset stroke, particularly at midlife, is even more tragic because these patients often have families or are caretakers for sick family members," noted Aparicio, a professor of neurology at Boston University's School of Medicine.

Aparicio's team plans to present its findings at next week's International Stroke Conference in Phoenix. Findings presented at medical meetings should be considered preliminary until published in a peer-reviewed journal.

Already, high blood pressure is a much bigger threat to Black American women compared to other patients. According to the AHA, about 58% of Black women have high blood pressure, compared to 43% of white women, 38% of Asian women and 35% of Hispanic women.

That makes the rate of hypertension among Black American women "among the highest in the world," according to the AHA.

But the stroke danger from elevated blood pressure is especially dire among the young, the new study found.

Aparicio's team looked at data on over 59,000 Black women taking part in the Black Women's Health Study. This U.S. study has been using detailed questionnaires to track these women's health every two years since 1995.

Over 23 years of follow-up, 1,485 cases of stroke were recorded.

The numbers showed that if a woman was diagnosed with high blood pressure between the ages of 21 and 34, she had a 3.1 times higher odds for having a stroke, compared to women without such diagnoses. That was true even though these women were also being treated for their hypertension, the researchers said.

The risk continued with age: Black women with high blood pressure before the age of 45 had more than double the odds for a stroke; and those diagnosed between the ages of 45 and 64 had a 69% higher odds, compared to Black women without high blood pressure.

All of these findings held after Aparicio's team adjusted for heart risk factors such as weight, smoking, diabetes, socioeconomics and even for living in the "Stroke Belt" --  the Southeast and Mid-Atlantic regions of the United States.

“We expected to see an association between having high blood pressure at a younger age and having a stroke during midlife and later life, however, we were surprised and concerned to see the magnitude of the relationship, especially for women who were taking anti-hypertension medications before age 35,” Aparicio said.

Is there any way to lessen the risk for Black women?

“My hope is that health care professionals are persuaded to pay special attention to high blood pressure screening and treatment over the life course for African American women, such as during childbearing years and both before and at the start of middle age," Aparicio said. "Health care policy changes are needed so that primary prevention is promoted and funded because by the time a Black woman has a stroke at middle age, it is often too late."

More information

Find out more about spotting and treating high blood pressure at the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.

SOURCE: American Heart Association, news release, Feb. 1, 2024

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