Hypertension is a medical condition defined as uncontrolled high blood pressure. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to several serious health conditions, especially when left untreated. For example, it can damage blood vessels in the heart, which in turn increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.1 It is a major risk factor for chronic kidney disease (CKD) and other forms of heart disease,1 which is the current leading cause of death in the United States.8 According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), in 2014 alone, hypertension was the primary or contributing cause of death for more than 1,100 individuals per day.2 Roughly 75 million (1 in every 3) American adults currently have high blood pressure.2 And for those who suffer from chronic diseases like type 1 and 2 diabetes, hypertension enhances the risk of heart attack or stroke (Hypertension occurs in approximately 30% of patients with type 1 and 50-80% of patients with type 2).9
Thankfully, there’s good news: while hypertension can have serious health consequences, it can also be detected with routine blood pressure tests, controlled with lifestyle changes and in some cases medication.4 Why, then, is it such a persistent problem?
About 1 of 5 U.S. adults with hypertension don’t know they have it.3 This is perhaps due to not visiting with their doctor regularly or not understanding their diagnosis. Those who are aware often struggle to manage their health properly. They have difficulty making the necessary lifestyle changes or taking their medication correctly.5 With doctors and other clinical staff already at capacity, what can organizations do to better address this problem?
This test checks the status of participants metabolism, the health of their kidneys and liver, levels of blood glucose and blood proteins and helps determine if follow up tests are needed to establish a diagnosis.11 The CHWs call participants when the results arrive, inform them if they qualify for education sessions, and based on the results, tell participants if they should seek medical attention immediately.
Our Community Health Workers also provide health education sessions that include suggestions, practical tips and, strategies to build confidence in living a healthier lifestyle. These classes have proven to be effective for participants. For example, after 12 weeks, the 2018 Vivir una Vida Plena participants showed significant increases in physical activity, fruit consumption, and vegetable consumption. They also showed a decrease in sugar-sweetened beverage, sodium and saturated fat consumption.
Along with a screening, lab work and educating participants on healthier lifestyle habits, our CHWs successfully connect those who did not have a primary care facility with organizations that provide free or low-cost primary care visits. This connection helps participants stay up-to-date on their condition and encourages them to return for a follow-up if needed. The presence of a CHW during this stage of the program has proved effective. For those that completed a follow-up visit, there were positive trends reported in their decreasing weight, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol, and triglycerides. These outcomes demonstrate the importance Community Health Workers have in empowering their communities to take steps towards a healthier lifestyle and the impact that has on chronic diseases.
If your organization is interested in expanding a current program to address hypertension or needs more individualized support with starting a CHW-led program, be sure to peruse MHP Salud’s training and consulting services.