WATCH – Cutting Hair and Blood Pressure: Study Shows How Black Barbershops Can Save Black Men’s Lives

Experiment shows new ways to treat African-American men, the group most at risk from high blood pressure

High blood pressure worried Mark Sims, but the 43-year-old law firm clerk wasn’t eager to take part in an unusual project. He doesn’t like taking pills. And he had never thought of his favorite barbershop as a place to get medical treatment.

But Sims succumbed to the persuasive charms of barbershop owner Eric Muhammad and signed up for a trial to see if measuring and treating blood pressure in barbershops could help African-American men.

The experiment, reported in the New England Journal of Medicine and presented to a meeting of the American College of Cardiology, was a resounding success and provides strong evidence that taking medicine to the people — in the places they go regularly, with people they trust — can achieve remarkable results.

At the beginning of the study, Sims felt fine and was startled at how high his blood pressure was.

“It was, like, 175 over, like, 125,” he told NBC News. “I was stroke-bound. That scared me.”

After a few months of treatment, Sims’ blood pressure is now close to optimal, 125 over 95.

The barbershop study points to new ways to treat African-American men, the group most at risk from high blood pressure.

The researchers did it by taking the treatment to the men’s regular hangout: the barbershop.

“It’s always been the meeting place … a place where you might catch a domino game or a chess game, good conversation,” said Muhammad, who owns A New You Barber And Beauty Salon in Inglewood, California. “For black men, it’s always been a great place for us to have time with our sons. It’s the man cave.”

Dr. Ronald Victor of the Cedars Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and colleagues were looking for ways to reach black men, who have extraordinarily high rates of heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrest, heart failure and stroke.

“Black men have the highest rates of high-blood-pressure-related disability and death of any group in the United States,” said Victor.

Nearly half of all Americans have high blood pressure, according to the American Heart Association. High blood pressure damages blood vessels and can lead to organ damage such as kidney and heart failure, as well as heart attacks and stroke. It’s hard to detect because it does not make people feel bad.

Only a blood pressure reading by a professional can diagnose the condition.

  • blood pressure of 120/80 or above is considered elevated
  • 130/80 to 139/89 is considered Stage 1 hypertension
  • anything 140/90 or above is considered stage 2 hypertension

If blood pressure reaches 180/120 or higher — and either number in the blood pressure reading counts — people are in hypertensive crisis, with need for immediate treatment or hospitalization.

But black men often don’t trust doctors and it can be hard for working people to get to one, anyway. Primary care offices are usually only open during the hours that people have to be at work.

“A lot of the men in our study were working at least two jobs to make ends meet,” Victor said.

“To set a schedule for seeing a doctor, in an inconvenient place, in a medical building, finding a place to park, having to go there to get your blood pressure checked and go to a clinical laboratory maybe three weeks from now at 3:00 in the afternoon just isn’t a possibility,” said Victor.

And, Muhammad added, men, in general, don’t want to go to the doctor. “In the inner cities, it’s even worse, because we don’t have the best of health care in the inner cities,” he said.

‘IF YOU CAN’T RELAX IN A BARBER’S CHAIR …’

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SOURCE: NBC News – Maggie Fox and Ian Wenger