HYPERTENSION, THE ‘SILENT KILLER’. WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

Digital BP Machine

What is hypertension?

High blood pressure, medically known as hypertension, is the leading cause for heart disease, strokes and kidney failure (responsible for 1,000 worldwide deaths per day – CDC). Unlike other diseases, hypertension has little to no physical warning signs and symptoms and is therefore, a condition many call “a silent killer”.

Blood pressure is the measurement of the force that a person’s blood exerts against the walls of their blood vessels. This pressure depends on the resistance of the blood vessels with which the blood flows and how hard the heart has to work. Blood pressure is written as two numbers. The first (systolic) number represents the pressure in blood vessels when the heart contracts or beats. The second (diastolic) number represents the pressure in the vessels when the heart rests between beats.

Is Sub-Saharan Africa free from hypertension?

Absolutely not. Sub-Saharan Africa has seen an increase of 67% in hypertension cases over the past few decades. Nearly 1 in 3 adults older than 25 suffer from hypertension, and only less than 50% are aware of their condition with only 25% of those who are aware managing it correctly. Therefore, an alarming 75% of the world’s hypertensive population are possible candidates for complications such as strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure and sudden death. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), there was a 67% increase in hypertension from 1990 to 2010 in Sub-Saharan Africa, and 40% of all adults were affected at the time. In Africa, 18% of all deaths were related to hypertension, resulting in half a million deaths and 10 million years of lost life in 2010. The higher the blood pressure and the longer it goes untreated, the more damage it can cause. Keeping blood pressure under control is vital for preserving health and reducing the risk of these dangerous conditions.

What are the risk factors for hypertension?

Modifiable risk factors include unhealthy diets (excessive salt consumption, a diet high in saturated fat and trans fats, low intake of fruits and vegetables), physical inactivity, consumption of tobacco and alcohol, and being overweight or obese. Non-modifiable risk factors include a family history of hypertension, age over 65 years and co-existing diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease.

Monitoring blood pressure

Fortunately, blood pressure can easily be monitored without any discomfort using blood pressure monitors. Once diagnosed with high blood pressure it can be managed and prevented through lifestyle alterations or medication.

A quick breakdown compiled by the World Hypertension League published in The Journal of Clinical Hypertension 2014, on blood pressure:

  • Normal/Healthy blood pressure: Blood pressure below 120/80mmHg.
  • At risk of becoming hypertensive (Pre hypertension): Blood pressure between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg. Take immediate steps to improve your lifestyle. Quit smoking; lose weight; be active; eat healthy; reduce salt intake; and cut down on your fat. (Meet with a healthcare provider to reassess your blood-pressure status regularly).
  • Consult a healthcare provider to confirm if you have hypertension (Hypertension): Blood pressure above 140/90mmHg. Hypertension is diagnosed if, when it is measured on two different days, the systolic blood pressure readings on both days is ≥140 mmHg and/or the diastolic blood pressure readings on both days is ≥90 mmHg.

How is hypertension managed?

Lifestyle adjustments are the standard, first-line treatment for hypertension. These include;

Exercise. Regular physical exercise is highly recommending for all people, including those with hypertension, to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate intensity, aerobic exercise every week, or 75 minutes a week of high intensity exercise. Further it is recommended for people to exercise on at least 5 days of the week and these kinds of exercise could include activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, or swimming.

Stress reduction. Avoiding or learning to manage stress can help a person control blood pressure. Activities such as meditation, warm baths, yoga, and simply going on long walks are relaxation techniques that can help relieve stress.

Diet. People should avoid consuming alcohol, too much salt, recreational drugs, tobacco, and junk food as these can contribute to elevated blood pressure and the complications of hypertension.

Smoking. Smoking can increase blood pressure. Avoiding or quitting smoking reduces the risk of hypertension, serious heart conditions, and other health issues.

When to take medicines?

If lifestyle modifications aren’t enough to properly manage high blood pressure, you need a consultation with your medical doctor to determine which medicine or medical device is clinically indicated for you. The choice of medication depends on the individual and any underlying medical conditions you may experience.

Is it safe to take any other medicines when on anti-hypertensives?

Anyone on antihypertensive medications should carefully read the labels of any over-the-counter (OTC) drugs they may want take such as nasal decongestants, coough and cold syrups and tablets. These OTC drugs may interact with the medications they are taking to lower their blood pressure causing a spike in the blood pressure. It is important to consult the Pharmacist or Doctor before attempting to take these medicines.

Finally, take control of your own health and take timely appropriate precautionary measures.

Compiled by Pharmacist Saini Kennedy L. Community Pharmacist

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