Even modest increases in high blood pressure raise the risk of death and heart failure among African-Americans, according to new research in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Analyzing 5,280 African-American patients enrolled in the Jackson Heart Study in 2000-11, researchers found:

  • Increases in systolic blood pressure were associated with a greater risk of death and heart failure across all age groups.
  • With every 10 mm Hg increase in systolic blood pressure, the risk of death increased by 12 percent.
  • Patients under age 60 faced a 26 percent increased risk with every 10 mm Hg increase in blood pressure, compared to less than 10 percent among those over age 60.

In 2014, the eighth Joint National Committee (JNC) panel increased the recommended blood pressure for people 60 years and older without other medical conditions from less than 140/90 mm Hg to less than 150/90 mm Hg. The effects of the new recommendations on African-Americans were unclear due to limited study data.

“This observational study should make us question whether the current JNC guidelines have identified the optimal target for blood pressure control in the African-American population,” said Tiffany C. Randolph, M.D., study lead author and a cardiologist at Cone Health Medical Group HeartCare in Greensboro, North Carolina.

“To fully answer this question, we will need additional large, randomized, controlled trials that enroll a diverse population. Until then, providers will have to continue assessing risk and working with patients to set blood pressure goals based on all the available data and individual patient concerns.”

High blood pressure is a common disease that affects about 80 million — one out of every three — U.S. adults 20 years and older. Often called the “silent killer” because of its lack of symptoms, high blood pressure is one of the main causes of serious diseases such as heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and heart failure. Anyone can develop high blood pressure, but African-Americans and women 65 or older are at greater risk.

High blood pressure is manageable with heart-healthy lifestyle changes, including maintaining a healthy weight, following a healthy diet, being physically active, avoiding smoking and in some cases taking blood pressure-lowering medication.