What you need to know about the silent killer called hypertension
It’s silent but deadly. Blood pressure is the pressure exerted by blood onto the walls of blood vessels during circulation and this pressure is mainly due to the heart pumping. If the pressure is too high, it means the heart is doing too much work. Persistent high blood pressure >140/90 strains the heart and is known as Hypertension.
There is a growing incidence of hypertension in Nigeria. According to a study conducted by James Tosin Akinlua and Co. on the Prevalence of Hypertension in Nigeria, about 55% of Nigerians are hypertensive. This means that about half the country are at risk of dying from stroke, heart disease, heart failure and kidney disease due to hypertension. Hypertension is the number one cause of stroke and heart disease in the country. According to WHO, hypertension is responsible for an estimated 45% of deaths due to heart disease and 55% of deaths due to stroke.
It is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in not just Nigeria, but the whole of West Africa, and the fact that it starts out showing no symptoms puts people at an increased risk of death. The fact that patients have no idea about their high blood pressure before it becomes severe is not unusual, It is actually the norm here in Nigeria. Asymptomatic hypertension is very common. Sadly, most people wait till they have symptoms before they check their blood pressure and by this time, it’s mostly too late to be reversed. That is why we should make it a priority to get our blood pressure checked regularly even if there are no apparent symptoms.
Now that we know that high blood pressure can become deadly if not checked, what do we need to do? First, we must know that 95% of hypertension cases are preventable and I always preach that preventive medicine is the best medicine. Nobody wants to deal with all the ill-health that comes along with having hypertension. Even if you are at no risk or have no family history of hypertension, I would still recommend that you check your blood pressure regularly and visit the doctor regularly. Even if you are healthy or appear healthy, try to see your doctor at least once a year to get your blood pressure checked. I can’t stress enough how important a two-minute blood pressure check is.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, the best initial therapy would be lifestyle modifications. These lifestyle modifications are very important and should be tried for at least a month or two before proceeding to using medications. Weight loss is the single most effective thing you can do to reduce hypertension. Weight loss has a positive effect on blood pressure and has the ability to restore the person’s blood pressure back to normal if the weight loss is significant enough. As little as 5kg weight reduction has been proven to reduce high blood pressure readings in people. Obviously, the more weight you lose, the more the blood pressure will be reduced.
Second, dietary modifications like reducing fat intake and reducing red meat, eating more fish, fruits and vegetables, eating more white meat instead of dark meat are a few changes one can make. Reduce salt intake or better yet, eliminate salt completely because eating to much salt causes water retention which in turn increases blood volume and ultimately increases blood pressure.
Third, exercising at least thirty minutes daily, 4-5 times a week positively affects the blood pressure and may prevent or reduce hypertension and its other associated diseases.
Also, smoking causes constriction of the blood vessels and this tightening of blood vessels causes unwanted pressure on the vessels leading to heart disease due to the hypertension. It is advisable to quit smoking completely. In addition, reducing or eliminating alcohol intake would also help in stopping hypertension.
Last, relaxation techniques like yoga may be useful in alleviating stress which is often a contributing factor to high blood pressure. Try these lifestyle modifications for about 2 months, they have been proven to be very effective in managing high blood pressure. If your blood pressure is not significantly reduced, then your doctor may need to proceed to medications that will better manage the blood pressure.
In a country like Nigeria, where life expectancy in Nigeria is much lower than in other countries, it is important to take the issue of blood pressure serious. This is because people are dying from preventable diseases such as hypertension. The government also has a role to play in ensuring that the life expectancy of Nigerians improve through the provision of a conducive environment for citizens to live and thrive. The government can also help decrease mortality rate, by putting out educational articles that inform Nigerians about the risks associated with neglecting their health. The Ministry of Health should consider having billboards across the country sensitizing citizens on the need for frequent blood pressure screening.
Additionally, government can organize risk-factor reducing programs such as free blood pressure screening in rural areas and make it a frequent exercise. High blood pressure is a ‘silent killer’ because it has no warning signs and symptoms, and so many people do not realize it until much later. Don’t be fooled into thinking that you can’t have hypertension because you are young. Hypertension affects all age groups. Make it a point of duty to get your blood pressure checked regularly. Preventive medicine is still the best medicine.
Disclaimer: The medical information provided on here by Dr. Nini Iyizoba is provided as an information resource only. This information does not create any patient-physician relationship and should not be used as a substitute for professional diagnosis and treatment.
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