Harvard Heart Letter

The race to high blood pressure

People with prehypertension (systolic blood pressure from 120 to 139 or diastolic pressure from 80 to 89) go on to develop full-blown high blood pressure more often than people with normal blood pressure. Race seems to influence the pace of that progression.

In a study of nearly 19,000 people — about 30% black and 70% white — blacks progressed from prehypertension to truly high blood pressure a full year sooner than whites who followed that same path (Hypertension, published online Sept. 12, 2011).

We don't yet know whether aggressively treating prehypertension in blacks would slow the progression. But this study confirms that — white or black — if your blood pressure is on the high side of normal today, it'll probably keep rising. So start now to lower it by increasing exercise, cutting down on salt, and following a heart-healthy diet.

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