High blood pressure is often called a silent killer because people can have it for years without symptoms, yet it can lead to serious health problems like heart attack and stroke. African Americans are more likely than any other racial or ethnic group to have the dangerous condition and to develop it earlier in life.
Samuel Merritt University’s Ethnic Health Institute (EHI) is working to ensure that more Bay Area residents are aware of their blood pressure status by hosting the annual “Frank E. Staggers Sr., MD, Hypertension Screening and Education Sunday”” on February 26. The event, being held at 27 churches across Alameda and Contra Costa counties, will provide free blood pressure screenings as well as resources about how hypertension can be prevented and managed.
“Hypertension is prevalent in underserved communities,” says EHI Director Arlene Swinderman. “It often doesn’t get treated or acknowledged because it’s a silent disease.”
EHI has been holding the free screening event for more than 20 years, coinciding with Black History Month and American Heart Month. Volunteers at this year’s event will include dozens of students from SMU and medical schools as well as physicians, registered nurses and licensed clinicians.
Community organizations participating in the event include the American Heart Association, the National Kidney Foundation, Donor Network West, and the East Bay Regional Park District.
About 1 of 3 U.S. adults—or about 75 million people—have high blood pressure. Only about half of these people have their high blood pressure under control, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Hypertension increases the risk for heart disease and stroke, two of the leading causes of death for Americans.
Because hypertension often has no warning signs or symptoms but can still cause heart damage, health experts says it is important that people check their blood pressure regularly.
In 2014, EHI analyzed results from Hypertension Sunday and found that only 27 percent of the more than a thousand of people screened had normal blood pressure readings while 31 percent were pre-hypertensive and 42 percent registered high blood pressure.
EHI holds the annual screening event at churches because they often serve as a community hub for people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds. The Institute is working with health ministries at several churches to continue educating people about hypertension year-round.
“Hypertension is the one health issue that people accept and they shouldn’t because it’s preventable and manageable,” says Swinderman.