February is American Heart Month, and we’re taking some time to highlight the work our providers and Community Health Educators do to support our patients with high blood pressure (also called hypertension). According to the American Heart Association, nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure; many don’t even know they have it, because there are often no obvious symptoms.
What is hypertension?
“For your body to be healthy and work well, your organs need oxygenated blood pumped by your heart,” explains Community Health Worker Elika Clara Rodriguez. Blood pressure is the measure of the pressure of circulating blood against your blood vessels. High blood pressure makes your heart work harder to get that blood to your organs, and puts more pressure on your arteries. “High blood pressure increases the risk of heart failure, stroke, kidney disease, and other issues,” Elika says. “That’s why knowing your blood pressure numbers is really important.” Stress, unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, and tobacco and alcohol use can all contribute to hypertension.
Hypertension care at NHS
At Neighborhood HealthSource, a big part of our mission is to work toward eliminating health disparities in the communities we serve. Racial health disparities persist in many areas of health, and high blood pressure is no different. For example, Black Americans have a higher risk of hypertension than other racial groups. Elika says she works with many patients who face language barriers to accessing health information as well. “I can speak with them in Spanish about why controlling your blood pressure is so important,” she explains. “My personal goal is to empower patients to understand and engage with their health, and give them the information they need.”
Socioeconomic factors also contribute to the prevalence of hypertension among patients we serve. Lack of access to healthy food, the stress of working a lower-paying job or having to work multiple jobs, and the inability to afford medication or monitoring equipment are all issues our patients face. We work with UCare to provide patients free blood pressure monitors so they can manage their hypertension at home. If patients notice their numbers are high, Elika says, they can connect with their provider or talk to a community health worker or pharmacist without leaving home.
Community Health Educators like Elika work directly with hypertension patients and their families to connect them with the resources they need to successfully keep their blood pressure under control. “We provide monitors and teach patients how to use them,” Elika explains. “At-home monitoring is an important tool for managing hypertension.” She also works with patients’ families so they can support their loved ones and help manage their care if needed. Neighborhood HealthSource takes a team-based approach to patient care. Community Health Educators like Elika work closely with primary care providers and a pharmacist to address all the needs a patient has. They can even refer patients to meet with our behavioral health providers to manage stress and other mental health and substance use concerns.
Heart health tips for everyone
Making heart healthy choices keeps hypertension under control; it can also help prevent high blood pressure in the first place. Eating healthy foods and getting exercise are particularly important. “People of all ages can benefit from even gentle exercise,” Elika says. This can be anything from walking around your house throughout the day to moving your arms periodically while sitting. Elika encourages patients to put on their favorite song and just dance. “Music is powerful for your mind and your body. Even a little movement every day helps keep your heart healthy.”