Q: Can people under 40 get high blood pressure? A: They sure can, in fact, U's happening more and more. High blood pressure, known in medical jargon as hypertension, is a condition where your blood pushes too hard against your blood vessels- you can think of it as a bicycle tire with too much air inside. Most people have had their blood pressure taken at some point during their lives. It's done by wrapping a deflated rubber balloon-like thing around your arm and pumping it up with a hand bulb. With the blood pressure device inflated, your blood pressure can be measured on a scale which is very much like a barometer used in weather forecasting. Blood pressure, like. air pressure, is measured in "inches of mercury." This means that the pressure of the air against the earth, or the pressure of your blood in your circulatory system is great enough to support the weiglit of a column of the liquid element mercury that's so many inches tall. An average barometer reading might be 30 inches of mercury. Blood pressure is a bit more complicated than air pressure because there are two readings which have to be made to give a clear idea of what's going on. One reading is taken when your heart is actively pumping blood. This is called "systolic pressure," since systole is the medical word for heartbeat. The other reading is taken when your heart is resting in between beats, and this is called the diastolic pressure. A blood pressure reading is expressed as a fraction for convenience: . the systolic pressure over the diastolic. Obviously, when your heart is beating, the pressure is greater than when your heart is at rest. There is no single normal blood pressure, just like there is no single normal height or weight, there is a normal range. The normal systolic range is 100-140 inches of mercury. The normal diastolic range is 60-90. The average normal blood pressure is about 1 2080. But don't freak out ifyoursis 13085, or 11074. Blood pressure fluctuates during the day depending on your activity. ■ sion, or high blood pressure, is defined as a reading higher than 14090 on three separate occasions. Hypertension is a "silent" disease In its early stages the only sign of this potentially dangerous condition is the higher blood pressure reading itself. The person may experience no other symptoms, or there may be headaches, visual disturbances, fatigue, or dizziness following exertion. Later on, hypertension can lead to heart disease, stroke, and kidney damage. Therefore, it is important for everyone to have hisher blood pressure checked at least once per year, if not more frequently. It should be thought of just like a yearly pap smear and pelvic exam in men, or a yearly prostate gland check in men. The Free People's Clinic will take the blood pressure of anyone who comes in, and an advocate will explain how it works, so you can do it yourself using our equipment. High blood pressure used to be thought of as a disease that older, overweight, corpoiate executive-types would get when they were fifty. Not any more. Nowadays, especially among black people, but among younger whites as well, hypertension is becoming increasingly common, though men are more likely to have it than women. Drugs can increase y our blood pressure: speed, especially amphetamines. So can diet. Foods that are high in sodium tend to increase blood pressure. The most common sodium containing food is table salt. It's a good idea to watch carefully your salt intake. A very salty diet increases your chance of developing high blood pressure, and once you've got the salt habit, it's very difficult to break it, if you have to later under a doctor's orders. Other foods high in sodium are dairy products, beans, nuts, pork, and cured meats. Be particularly careful of salt intake if you are overweight andor have a family history of high blood pressure. Recently, hypertension has become a focus of great concern in the black community. Black men develop high blood pressure much more often, and at a much younger average age than do whites. Some of this difference may be attributable to black ethnic "soul food," which generally is high in sodium content. However, many whites eat foods equally high in sodium. Recently published studies indicate that hypertension, like many other diseases of stress - heart disease, mental illness, cáncer, and ulcers - are closely eorrelated with social class and income. The fact is that poor people are under a great deal more stress than are wealthy people. and blacks have the added reality of racism to deal with. Unlike the plagues of old that struck down rich and poor alike. the trend today is toward environmentally induced disease, and depending on your social class, sex, and race, some people inhabit a much more hostile environment in contemporary America than others. Added to this imbalance is the fact that the people who need health care the most, the poor, get it the least. Good health is a privilege of wealth in this country and will be until health care becomes a guaranteed right of all people, instead of a commodity up for auction to the sniall group of higli bidders. If you are concerned about youi blood pressure, your social and economie environment, and the possibilities for change, stop by the Free People's Clinic, Mon.Wed. at 6 p.m.