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America's 'silent killer' is still out of control: Here's how to stop it

Less than half of adults with high blood pressure actually have it under control.
/ Source: TODAY

About 75 million Americans — a whopping 29 percent of us — have hypertension, or high blood pressure. To make matters worse, the condition isn’t anywhere close to being kept in check, especially among African-Americans.

Although it's a major risk factor for heart disease and stroke, less than half of adults — 48 percent — with the condition actually have it under control, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday.

“The fact that we’ve made no progress on controlling hypertension is disappointing, although not entirely surprising,” Dr. Sharonne N. Hayes, a cardiologist and founder of the Women’s Heart Clinic at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, told TODAY.

LaZondra Griggs, a 44-year-old mother of two who lives in St. Louis, knows the struggle first hand. After dealing with high blood pressure for years, she finally has been able to the condition under control, thanks to regular exercise, a change in her diet and new medication.

Portion control is a very hard thing,” said Griggs, who has a family history of hypertension. “I grew up in a family where you really don’t measure your portions, so that was hard for me.” Besides learning to control how much she was eating, Griggs also started exercising five days a week alongside her husband.

Giriggs was diagnosed with hypertension in 1998 after giving birth to her son. She said her condition was not controlled for nearly a dozen years. But now? “I feel amazing. I feel wonderful."

So, what can you do?

Know your blood pressure numbers: If you don’t go to the doctor or get your blood pressure checked regularly, you're missing out on vital information. High blood pressure is called the "silent killer" because it often has no symptoms.

Adopt lifestyle changes associated with lowering high blood pressure: These include eating healthy, being active, managing stress, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, maintaining a healthy weight and watching your salt intake. One reason why it's hard to control high blood pressure is because these lifestyle changes are often difficult to implement, explained Hayes.

Talk with your doctor: Start a conversation about your blood pressure. Doctor visits are often shorter and patients aren’t always asked about their diet and exercise history. Griggs also urged Americans to not wait as long as she did to get treatment. “It's really important for African-American people — or people of color — to make sure you see a doctor. Because a lot of us don't go to the doctor. And that's a problem. If you don't go, then you won't know that you have a problem.”

The hypertension prevalence rate was unchanged from 1999 to 2016, according to the CDC study. It continued to be higher among black adults, with 40 percent having the condition, compared to about 27 percent of white adults, according to the report.

The problem also increased with age, with 63 percent of those 60 and over having high blood pressure.

The reason why the hypertension prevalence rate is higher among African-Americans is due to a number of factors, including family history and systemic reasons, said Dr. Angela L. Brown, a physician and an associate professor of medicine at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis.

There's "access to healthcare, and then stressors, you know, just traumatic stress, the everyday stress of life, that sometimes affect African-Americans differently than they affect other populations. Dietary changes and dietary differences. African-Americans do tend to be more salt sensitive, athough other groups are salt sensitive as well," she said.