A new study suggests that American men are much more likely than women are to be unaware that they suffer from high blood pressure. African-American men with the condition are at the highest risk, with only one in seven both aware of their illness and able to control it through medication.
“The explanation of the disparity, while not clear, isn’t closely associated with perceived discrimination at the doctor’s office, which is a good thing,” said study lead author Ronald Victor, M.D. “The differences also don’t appear to be associated with lack of knowledge about the disease.”
Instead, other factors appear to be at work. Both whites and African-Americans who think they are in good health are especially likely to fail to treat their high blood pressure or even realize they have it, said Victor, chief of the hypertension division at University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.
The study appears in the June 23 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Researchers have long known that African-Americans are at higher risk of developing high-blood pressure, also known as hypertension, Victor said.
The condition can lead to a variety of ills, including heart attacks, stroke and kidney failure. Still, many have long referred to high blood pressure as the “silent killer” because it often has no outward symptoms.
In the new study, designed to examine the causes of the racial disparity, researchers interviewed 1,194 African-American and 320 white adults from the Dallas area and took consecutive measurements of their blood pressures between 2000 and 2002. No Latinos or members of other racial groups took part in the study.
Compared to those without regular doctors, study participants who had a regular physician were almost four times more likely to be aware of their high blood pressure, eight times more likely to undergo related treatment and five times more likely to have the condition under control.
Among people with high blood pressure, those who believed they were healthy were “one-third as likely to know they’ve got the condition, half as likely to be treated and two-thirds as likely to have their blood pressure controlled” compared to those who did not believe they were healthy, Victor said.
Among both sexes and races, African-American women with hypertension were the most likely to know they had the condition, Victor said. Eighty percent of them were aware, and a third had their condition under control.
The findings make sense to Dawn Wilson, a professor of psychology at the University of South Carolina who studies hypertension.
Ethnic minorities and the poor often have misperceptions about the health-care system and might actually be aware that they are unhealthy, but deny it because they do not have enough money, she said.
Study author Victor suggested doing more to educate men about the importance of regular health checkups. “There’s no such thing as a ‘well-man’ exam, and maybe that’s the issue,” he said. “In our society, women learn to become health conscious in terms of preventive health care, and men don’t have that kind of emphasis from a young age.”
Victor RG, et al. Factors associated with hypertension awareness, treatment, and control in Dallas County, Texas. Arch Intern Med 168(12), 2008.
Source: Health Behavior News Service