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High Blood Pressure and Black Folks: Is It the Genes?

Study finds four genes associated with hypertension

BHM Edit Staff | 9/20/2013, 6 a.m.
African Americans have the highest rates of hypertension in the world.

African Americans are more likely to develop high blood pressure than whites (in fact, we have the highest rates of hypertension in the world), and a new study has identified four common genetic variations affecting their risk.

The study, which included about 30,000 African Americans, is the largest to look at how genes influence blood pressure in black people, the researchers say. They also point out that most gene discoveries so far have been in white people; previous studies in blacks failed to identify any genes associated with blood pressure.

Genes account for 40 percent to 50 percent of a person’s risk for high blood pressure. Other risk factors for high blood pressure include diet, obesity and lifestyle.

“In addition to their disproportionate suffering, hypertension occurs earlier in life for African Americans compared to individuals of other ancestries,” study co-senior author Xiaofeng Zhu, a professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Case Western Reserve University, said in a release. “It is important to study this population to better understand genetic susceptibility to hypertension.”

The study’s authors hope their research leads to a better understanding of blood pressure in black folks as well as future treatments. “The research findings do not have immediate implications for treatment,” said Brendan Keating, co-senior author, of the Center for Applied Genomics at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, “but the hope is that discovering genes associated with disease risks will bring scientists closer to biological pathways and may suggest useful targets for new treatments.”

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