What is blood pressure?
You know when you go to the doctor or to the dentist, and they sit you down in a chair and wrap that thing around your upper arm? It tightens pretty quickly, and then it slowly begins getting looser and looser as you sit there wondering how much longer it is going to take. Then, finally, your arm is free and the polite medical assistant helping you out rips the Velcro sleeve open and off your arm and tells you the doctor will be with you soon. That was you getting your blood pressure taken.
Now, a lot of us already knew that the process I just described is how we get our blood pressure taken, but how many of us really know what those numbers mean afterward, or what blood pressure even is? The National Cancer Institute describes blood pressure as, “the force of circulating blood on the walls of the arteries. Blood pressure is taken using two measurements: systolic (measured when the heartbeats, when blood pressure is at its highest) and diastolic (measured between heartbeats, when blood pressure is at its lowest). Blood pressure is written with the systolic blood pressure first, followed by the diastolic blood pressure (for example 120/80).”  Systolic blood pressure “indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls when the heart beats” and diastolic blood pressure “indicates how much pressure your blood is exerting against your artery walls while the heart is resting between beats.”  The measurement of 120/80 mm Hg is considered to be the maximum measurement for normal blood pressure. The measurement of “mm Hg” means “millimeters of mercury. Mercury was used in the first accurate pressure gauges and is still used in medicine today as the standard unit of measurement for pressure.”  Anything higher than 120/80 mm Hg means that you are experiencing abnormal blood pressure, which can be concerning. There are five ranges of blood pressure: normal, elevated, hypertension stage 1, hypertension stage 2, and hypertensive crisis.
○ As previously stated, measurements of 120/80 mm Hg or less are considered normal. If this is usually your case, you should continue to maintain or implement even more habits that promote heart health.
○ A measurement of anywhere between 120-129 mm Hg systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic is considered elevated. If this is what you usually see when you get your blood pressure taken, it is important to take proactive steps to avoid getting high blood pressure.
● Hypertension stage 1
○ Measurements ranging from 130-139 mm Hg systolic and 80-89 mm Hg diastolic fall within this stage. “At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe lifestyle changes and may consider adding blood pressure medication based on your risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), such as heart attack or stroke.” 
● Hypertension stage 2
○ Any measurement of 140/90 mm Hg or higher falls within this stage. “At this stage of high blood pressure, doctors are likely to prescribe a combination of blood pressure medications and lifestyle changes.” 
● Hypertensive crisis
○ If your blood pressure measurement exceeds 180/120 mm Hg, you are likely experiencing a hypertensive crisis. If this high measurement persists after several minutes, this is an emergency and you should call your doctor, or call 911 if “you are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision or difficulty speaking.” 
So, what can we do to help ourselves get consistently normal blood pressure readings and strive for a healthier heart and lifestyle?
Medications to lower blood pressure
Of course, taking medication to lower your blood pressure is probably the most obvious solution, but sometimes blood pressure medication is unaffordable. However, if you prefer and can afford to keep taking blood pressure medications, there are a multitude of these medications you should be aware of. The following is a list of different types of blood pressure medications, along with a short description of what they do to lower blood pressure, provided by the American Heart Association :
○ This type of medication clears out excess sodium and water in your body
○ This medication helps to “reduce the heart rate, the heart's workload and the heart's output of blood” 
● ACE (Angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors
○ This medication helps “the body produce less angiotensin, which helps the blood vessels relax and open up” 
● Angiotensin II receptor blockers
○ “These drugs block the effects of angiotensin, a chemical that causes the arteries to become narrow. [...] ARBs block the receptors so the angiotensin fails to constrict the blood vessel” 
● Calcium channel blockers
○ “This drug prevents calcium from entering the smooth muscle cells of the heart and arteries,” which helps “relax and open up narrowed blood vessels, reduce heart rate and lower blood pressure” 
○ “These drugs reduce the arteries' resistance, relaxing the muscle tone of the vascular walls” 
● Alpha-2 receptor agonists
○ “These drugs reduce blood pressure by decreasing the activity of the sympathetic (adrenaline-producing) portion of the involuntary nervous system” 
● Combined alpha and beta-blockers
○ “Combined alpha and beta-blockers are used as an IV drip for those patients experiencing a hypertensive crisis” 
● Central agonists
○ This type of medication helps to “decrease the blood vessels' ability to tense up or contract” 
● Peripheral adrenergic inhibitors
○ This type of medication is not common to use. “These medications reduce blood pressure by blocking neurotransmitters in the brain. This blocks the smooth muscles from getting the "message" to constrict” 
● Blood vessel dilators (vasodilators)
○ This type of medication helps to relax the muscle in the walls of blood vessels, which causes them to dilate-hence the name of the medication- and make it easier for blood to flow through
Although taking blood pressure medication helps many people lower their blood pressure, it is important to remember that all medication comes with the possibility of encountering adverse side effects. Make sure to contact your doctor if you feel that your blood pressure medication is causing any negative side effects.
Natural ways to lower blood pressure
If you cannot afford blood pressure medication, or if you don’t want to experience any possible side effects, the following natural ways to reduce blood pressure might be worth trying :
● If you are overweight or obese and are consistently testing for high blood pressure, taking steps to lose some weight might be helpful to you. Higher blood pressure does tend to come with a weight increase, so making small changes in your exercise habits can help you bring your blood pressure numbers down if you stay consistent. Even if you aren’t overweight and are still experiencing high blood pressure measurements, exercising regularly is an important lifestyle habit that can help you get your blood pressure under control.
● Having a healthier diet can also help to reduce blood pressure measurements. Cutting out most saturated fats, foods high in cholesterol, and foods high in sodium can help you reduce your blood pressure if you are keeping up with these habits.
● Stress can be a big contributor to high blood pressure, so reducing stress would be a great way to start lowering your blood pressure. Although it is easier said than done, some ways to reduce stress include meditating, doing something simple such as taking a quiet walk, squeezing time in your day for your favorite hobby- that relaxes you, and trying to avoid the things that you know will stress you out.
Remember that lowering your blood pressure is a part of a larger journey to better your health. Do not be discouraged if you aren’t getting drastic results as quickly as you want them to happen. Changes like this won’t just happen overnight, and it’s important to keep having faith in yourself, knowing that you are doing your best to make healthier choices.
1. NCI Dictionary of Cancer terms. National Cancer Institute. (n.d.). https://www.cancer.gov/publications/dictionaries/cancer-terms/def/blood-pressure.
2. Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. American Heart Association (2022, January 5). https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings.
3. Types of Blood Pressure Medications. American Heart Association. (2021, November 19). https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/changes-you-can-make-to-manage-high-blood-pressure/types-of-blood-pressure-medications.
4. Mayo Foundation for Medical Education and Research. (2021, February 24). 10 Drug-free Ways to Control High Blood Pressure. Mayo Clinic. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/in-depth/high-blood-pressure/art-20046974.
Author: Lauryn Agron
Editor: Kayjah Taylor
Health scientist: Aseelah Saiyed