New guidelines created to help patients at risk of heart disease and stroke could have a significant impact on the African American community, which is disproportionately affected by both.

The American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology, with help from an array of other professional medical organizations, recently revamped criteria needed to recognize a patient that is in need of drug therapy or “lifestyle intervention.”

Under the new principles, the low-density lipoprotein, or LDL, cholesterol would play a part in a diagnoses and treatment, but its level would not be the main focus in determining treatment.

Now, doctors will look at each patient individually and assess LDL cholesterol level, along with risk of diabetes and heart disease. A calculation of other factors including blood pressure, sex, race, and age, high-density lipoproteins, or HDL, cholesterol, often called “good cholesterol,” will also be used to estimate heart attack risk.

“In the past, most of the guidelines were based on the risk of heart attack,” said Dr. George A. Mensah, senior advisor to the director of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. “One difference is that in addition to the risk of heart attack- the risk of stroke is also assessed.”

“They are looking at the overall risk of the person- not so much the particular numbers of the individual risk factors,” Mensah told the AFRO. “When you use the risk assessment that the guidelines suggest, you are able to differentiate people who are at increased risk, and those who would benefit from moderate to intense treatment using a cholesterol lowering drug called a statin.”

According to the facts compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly one out of every three American adults experience high blood pressure, or hypertension. As many as 68 million people in the country are open to not only heart disease, but stroke.

According to statistics released by the Office of Minority Health, “African American adults are 40 percent more likely to have high blood pressure, they are 10 percent less likely than their non-Hispanic, White counterparts to have their blood pressure under control.”

The new guidelines will mean that many more will be aware of their high blood pressure problem, dubbed the “silent killer” by the CDC, because “it often has no warning signs or symptoms,” and many people are oblivious to the fact that they have it.

“An African American who might have had borderline blood pressure, borderline lipid level, or borderline weight, in the past may not have met the thresholds for treatment,” said Mensah. “If you use these ACC, AHA guidelines to assess risk, they would be labeled ‘high risk’ and be put into treatment.”

“In the African American community the potential benefit is that more people who are at increased risk are more likely to be managed and therefore lead better, and healthier lives than if doctor’s were using the older guidelines,” he added.

Blood pressure can be lowered by decreasing sodium intake.

New guidelines on treating overweight and obese adults recommend vigorous exercise at least three to four times a week for no less than 40 minutes. Smoking cessation is encouraged for all, regardless of health status.

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer