Have a question for the doctor? Text it to “646464” (OHOHOH).

No one really likes going to the doctor. There is always that fear your physician will find something wrong and if you are feeling some aches or pains, you hope you can ignore it and whatever it is will go away on its own, nothing more than a minor, passing inconvenience.

But ignorance is no excuse – especially when it comes to heart disease and African Americans.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S. For African Americans, nearly 45 percent of men and 47 percent of women have cardiovascular disease.

There are several risk factors that can lead to heart disease; a major one is high blood pressure. African Americans are more likely to have high blood pressure and develop it earlier in life compared to whites and left unmanaged, it increases the likelihood of developing heart disease.

People with type 2 diabetes, often caused by poor diet, obesity and lack of exercise, also are at an increased risk for heart disease and stroke. African Americans are 1.4 times more likely to develop diabetes than non-Hispanic whites. In the 65-74 age group, the risk is two-fold, according to the American Diabetes Association.

The National Stroke Association reports stroke is the fourth cause of death in the country, with more than 750,000 people experiencing a stroke annually. African Americans are two times more likely to die from stroke than any other racial group. Women of all races are more susceptible, with 55,000 more women suffering a fatal stroke each year than men. Statistics from the National Stroke Association show that 80 percent of strokes are preventable, with proper health care and a healthy lifestyle.

Diet, exercise, regular checkups are routinely recommended. But in case you missed the message the first dozen times, U.S. Surgeon General Regina Benjamin is calling on the public and health care professionals to join an effort to help African Americans stave off heart disease and related issues.

Million Hearts is a national initiative to prevent one million heart attacks and strokes by 2017, by educating the public and health care professionals and bringing together diverse partners from across the country to fight heart disease and stroke.

Benjamin says the good news is heart disease can be controlled – and even prevented – just by making gradual changes.

A healthy diet, with foods low in sodium and trans-fat like fruits and vegetables, is a big first step. Reducing sodium is critical because about 90 percent of Americans eat more sodium than they should. Generally speaking, black Americans should limit their intake of sodium to no more than 1,500 mg per day.

One way to gauge what you are ingesting is to eat less processed food and read the nutrition labels to see how much sodium is in a serving.

Other preventive measures generally recommended by health professionals include not smoking; limiting alcohol intake to no more than one drink per day for women and two drinks a day for men; managing diabetes and monitoring blood sugar levels; keeping cholesterol levels in the healthy range; monitoring blood pressure and taking calcium and magnesium supplements, minerals shown to be helpful in controlling high blood pressure, one of the strongest risk factors for stroke.

If you already have high blood pressure, follow doctor’s orders, whether it is making dietary changes and getting more exercise or taking prescribed medication regularly and as directed.

The Affordable Care Act makes preventive services such as blood pressure and cholesterol screening, smoking cessation, and obesity counseling more accessible than ever and at no out-of-pocket cost to millions of Americans with private health insurance or on Medicare.

For updates on what benefits the ACA provides, visit www.HealthCare.gov.

 Click here for answers to your questions to Surgeon General Regina Benjamin.

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