High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) And What You Can Do About It

By Lucy Gleysteen and Seth Lamming

Whenever your heart beats, it pushes blood through your body to nourish tissues and organs. The heart has to beat with enough force to reach every part of the body. However, many people have blood pressure that is too high. When blood vessels are narrowed by conditions such as high cholesterol, the heart has to work harder to supply blood to the rest of the body, increasing pressure. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, over time causes less blood flow to the kidneys, which causes the body to retain more water and salts. With more water and salts in the body, the heart has to beat harder to manage all the fluid, causing an increase in blood pressure.

What is blood pressure, and what do the numbers mean?

Blood pressure is the measurement of how much pressure or force there is of blood pushing up against the walls of your arteries. Arteries are what carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body.

Blood pressure readings have two numbers. Systolic, the number on top, represents the pressure on blood vessel walls when your heart is beating or contracting. Diastolic is the number below, and it represents the pressure on your blood vessels between beats when your heart is relaxing. It is normal for blood pressure to fluctuate over the day.

What is high blood pressure (hypertension)?

A normal blood pressure is below 120 (systolic) over 80 (diastolic), or 120/80. High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is when a person has a blood pressure consistently above 130/80. Sometimes blood pressure readings can be impacted by things like stress, caffeine, sleep, and nicotine.

Systolic and Diastolic Readings
Normalsystolic: less than 120 mm Hg diastolic: less than 80 mm Hg
Elevatedsystolic: 120-129 mm Hg diastolic: more than 80 mm Hg
High Blood Pressuresystolic: 130 mm Hg or higher diastolic: 80 mm Hg or higher

Who is at risk for hypertension?

The exact cause of hypertension is not known. However, many people believe that a combination of genetic, environmental, and lifestyle factors cause high blood pressure. Hypertension is more common as you get older. Hypertension also tends to be more aggressive and occur earlier in Black people in the United States, due to intense stress and less access to preventative health care. Higher levels of hypertension is a clear

example of how anti-Black racism can impact health. You are more likely to have high blood pressure if people in your family have it. Other risk factors include diets high in salt, excessive alcohol, some medications, not exercising, and smoking.

Does hypertension have signs and symptoms?

Often hypertension does not have warning signs or symptoms. Getting a high blood pressure measurement on two separate occasions is the only way to confirm a hypertension diagnosis.

If there are no symptoms, what’s the issue?

Managing hypertension is important, even if there are no symptoms. Over time, high blood pressure damages the blood vessels in your body, causing them to narrow and harden. As a result, hypertension can lead to heart failure, chronic kidney disease, vision loss, dementia, and many other problems. It is also a common cause of heart attack and stroke.

How can I prevent it?

It takes time to develop high blood pressure. Sometimes it is genetic. If it is difficult to get physical activity or eat healthily, a person might be at higher risk of hypertension. Some people do not have access to healthy food, or time and space to exercise, so while there are recommendations about lifestyle in preventing hypertension, it is also important to acknowledge that not maintaining healthy blood pressure is not something that someone should be blamed for. Things that can help with preventing or reducing high blood pressure include getting regular physical activity, not smoking, and limiting sodium intake.

How can I take care of high blood pressure in prison?

Although managing hypertension in prison comes with many challenges, there are some things you can do to lower your blood pressure. Eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains and limiting saturated fats and red meats can help. Trying to eat less than 2,300 mg of sodium per day is recommended. Try to get regular physical activity, at least 20-30 minutes per day. If you smoke or drink alcohol, try to cut back or quit.

Medication is an effective method for managing hypertension. Blood pressure medication only works well if it is taken as prescribed. Even after your blood pressure gets lowered, it is necessary to continue these medications for life. People usually start with either an ACE/ARB, or calcium channel blocker. Diuretics are usually added second if blood pressure is not well controlled. These are medications that are used to treat hypertension:

Angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors cause blood vessels to relax and open up, which lowers blood pressure. It also helps your kidneys get rid of extra sodium and water. Examples include lisinopril or enalapril.
Angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs) work in a similar way to ACE inhibitors. They cause blood vessels to relax and open up, which allows for lower blood pressure. It also helps your kidneys get rid of extra salts and water. Examples include losartan or valsartan.
Calcium channel blockers cause smooth muscles in the blood vessels around the heart and throughout the body to relax, causing blood pressure to lower. Examples include amlodipine or nifedipine.
Diuretics, sometimes called water pills, help remove sodium (salt) and water from your body through urination. There are many different types of diuretics,
but thiazide-type diuretics like hydrochlorothiazide (HCTZ) are usually used
to treat hypertension.

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