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Keeping a ‘silent killer’ at bay  

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A woman checking her blood pressure PHOTO: www.novartis.com

A woman checking her blood pressure PHOTO: www.novartis.com

High blood pressure is one of the killer diseases that affect people without them knowing it.  ALERO BINITIE speaks to experts on how to avoid the health problem before it is too late.

Two weeks ago, a 27-year- old hairdresser who pleaded anonymity collapsed in her saloon at Bariga, Lagos and was rushed to the hospital by neighbours. She was later diagnosed with high blood pressure.

‘’I did not feel a thing, I wasn’t having fever or sweating, I only felt a small sharp pain at my back, the next thing, I found myself admitted at the hospital.

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“When the doctor told me I have high blood pressure, I was shocked because I haven’t been ill for a while now. I feel very healthy,’’ she said.

Not many people were as lucky as the hairdresser.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), high blood pressure is estimated to cause 7.5 million deaths worldwide, about 12.8 per cent of the total of all deaths.

WHO’s latest report shows that Africa has the highest cases of high blood pressure in the world with a prevalence rate of 40 per cent.

‘’High blood pressure is the main factor responsible for premature death in the world and, therefore, constitutes the major global burden of disease,” said Professor of Medicine and Consultant Cardiologist at the University of Nigeria Teaching Hospital, Enugu, Prof. Basden J. Onwubere .

Blood pressure is described as the force of blood pushing against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps it.

The blood pressure is measured in systolic and diastolic values. Systolic is the top number and measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and diastolic is the bottom number and measures the pressure when the heart is at rest between beats.

The acceptable level in systolic is 140 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) while diastolic level is 90 mmHg.

According to guidelines by WHO, European Society of Hypertension, British Hypertension Society and Nigerian Hypertension Society, hypertension means a person consistently has sustained elevation of blood pressure.

If you check once and it is 140 over 90 that is high, but two hours later it has come down to 130 over 80, this is normal.  For someone to be diagnosed as having high blood pressure there must have been established evidence that the patient’s blood pressure is elevated and sustained.  Sustained elevation of the blood pressure that is not treated could lead to an enlargement of the heart.

Blood pressure normally rises with age and body size.  As people age, the blood vessels become harder and the pressure between them gets raised too.

Therefore, if a person is 80 years old and you find the blood pressure to be 160 over 100mmHg, one cannot say the person is hypertensive unless it remains persistently high.

A consultant cardiologist and physician of the National Orthopedic Hospital (NOH) Igbobi, Dr. Okobi Asika said when the heart begins to work with an extra effort you could say the blood pressure is elevated.

Explaining why people develop high blood pressure, the Medical Director of Adesola Medical Hospital Bariga, Lagos, Dr. Olubayo Windapo, said the status of the blood vessels is important.

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The harder the vessels get, the more resistant they become to pump blood from the heart, So, if the vessels are getting hard or something is causing them not to be able to expand, then the heart will be pumping against a resistance. In coping with the resistance, the heart will be getting more muscles.’’

He said the heart will be getting enlarged if the resistance is not taken care of. After a while it will give way, leading to heart failure.

This is a key risk factor for stroke, heart attacks, heart failure, said the medical director.

It is also a significant cause of chronic kidney disease. Life expectancy of an individual could be considerably lowered even by moderate elevation of (arterial) blood pressure.

He pointed out that there is no age limit for checking blood pressure. This means that even a secondary school child’s blood pressure should be checked.

‘’Most of the high blood pressure patients inherited medically called idiopathic or essential hypertension. It is usually passed from one parent to the child,” he said.

“In Lagos, one of the things that expose one to high blood pressure is societal problems, social issues. You can imagine spending three to four hours driving in traffic that is enough to start raising certain chemicals within the body system which in turns raises the blood pressure.’’

‘’Societal issues can cause high blood pressure because of the changes that they can cause within an individual issue such as traffic, no light, no water can pile up and raise blood pressure because of the stress it creates.’’

The medical director said high blood pressure is called a “silent killer” because a lot of people discover they have high blood pressure for the first time only when they are admitted or have a stroke and depending on the kind of stroke. If the stroke is such that it causes a vital blood vessel to burst in the brain the person can just die.

Windapo mentioned some of the signs of high blood pressure such as low-grade headache, poor eye vision affecting the retina, lack of concentration and changes in urinating , especially at night. Raised blood pressure can affect the kidneys over time, he stressed.

He spoke further: ‘’One of the common trends in Lagos is hypertension due to kidney diseases and this is because people patronise all these so-called herbal drinks such as Paraga, Opaeyin, Ale and Afato hawked at motor parks.

“They are made from chemicals that are poisonous to the kidneys and once the kidney is damaged one of the first signs we see in the hospital is high blood pressure; that is why a lot of young men today are having kidney issues.”

According to him, there are ways to prevent getting high blood pressure.

He added: “Lifestyle modifications are essential. Stop smoking, avoid over drinking, learn to know your limits, eat a better diet with plenty of vegetables and avoid using too much of condiments because they contain monosodium glutamate with three times the strength of normal salt we take. Learn to reduce your salt intake, learn to take part in a regular physical activity.

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“Anything that causes you stress, avoid it. These changes may reduce your blood pressure without the use of prescription medications. Although there is no cure, high blood pressure is manageable.’’

Also, the dietitian at the NOH, Igbobi, Mrs. Umeche Ucheche, noted that there are some food items a person can take to help reduce blood pressure such as garlic, ginger, turmeric and fruits.

She advised people to avoid excess salt, canned food and saturated fats but rather people go on high fibre, reduce intake of oil, exercise and undertake regular check-up.


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