One very common disease that is sometimes very poorly understood by many Nigerians is high blood pressure. It is also called hypertension and it occurs when there is an increased pressure in the arteries (blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the organs).
The normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg in adult males and 110/70 mmHg in adult females. Hypertension is when the systolic pressure (the first number) is higher than 130 mm Hg and/or when the diastolic blood pressure (the second number) is higher than 80 mm Hg.
If you asked around you what people think about the causes, symptoms, and treatment of this disease, you might be surprised about the things you will hear.
This is why so much effort is put into providing educational materials, organizing free health outreaches, and why it is important to read as much as you can online (from credible sources) about any disease you hear commonly about.
Well, today, we will be discussing high blood pressure in detail.
I will be explaining 7 important facts about this disease to help you understand it better.
Let's go straight into the facts.
1. It Can Be Familial
One thing people need to know about high blood pressure is that it can run in families.
If someone has a parent or both parents who have been diagnosed hypertensive, there is an increased risk that the person can develop high blood pressure at a point.
This is why doctors routinely ask this question: "Is there anyone in your family who's being treated for high blood pressure?". Now, some people may not have hypertensive parents but if you have a blood-related aunt, uncle or even grandparent with this disease, there's an increased risk that you too may have it, so you need to ask questions.
You may be wondering: "If nobody in my family has hypertension, does this mean I can never get hypertension?"
The answer is no.
Sometimes people who do not have family members with it could still develop this disease, what we know is that there is an increased risk of getting it when family members have it (and no, it is not contagious).
2. It Often Has No Symptoms
Many times people with high blood pressure are completely unaware of it because it could show no symptoms.
So, they carry out their regular activities without any treatment or management plan in place to control their blood pressure.
This is why hypertension is often called the 'silent killer.
In fact, one benefit of regular blood pressure checks for all adult patients in clinics and hospital is that we get to incidentally identify people with high blood pressures and counsel them about it while offering them a treatment plan.
Blood pressure can be checked with a digital blood pressure monitor (that can be used at home) or with the conventional sphygmomanometer and a good stethoscope (typically seen in hospitals).
Sometimes, when pressures get very high, it could cause symptoms like headaches, palpitations, dizziness, and a blurred vision.
3. It Can Cause A Stroke
People with an uncontrolled high blood pressure at a very much increased risk of developing a hemorrhagic stroke.
How this happens is this: The blood pressure becomes so high that it damages blood vessels, when these vessels rupture in the brain, it leads to the accumulation of blood in the skull, hence putting pressure on brain tissues and damaging the cells there.
This is what a hemorrhagic stroke is, and it can cause immediate death or other problems like a loss of sensation, speech problems, muscle weakness, and paralysis.
People with hypertension often need to move around in mobility equipment like crutches, wheelchairs, and scooters.
4. Hypertensive Patients Often Need To Take Medications For Life
When a person is prescribed medications for hypertension, the idea is not some short-term treatment for a couple of weeks and all. Rather, it is long-term, and quite frankly, for life.
The patient will have to visit the physician routinely to cross-check the effectiveness of the medication and to see if any adjustments need to be made.
Many people get worried about the idea of taking medications every day, but the truth is that when you look at the alternative of not being on any drugs and risking a stroke and death, the option of taking a tablet once a day may is clearly the better option.
5. It Is Closely Linked To Diabetes
Ask any doctor what disease is closely related to high blood pressure, and you'll hear diabetes. They are often called 'siblings'.
Many times we often screen for the two diseases at the same time. Hypertension and diabetes share a lot in common, including the fact that they can affect blood vessels, and that they have similar risk factors.
Things like a sedentary lifestyle, bad diet choices, and a family history are risk factors for the development of both diseases.
6. Hypertensive Patients Could Have Bigger Hearts
Hypertensive patients could have larger hearts than the average person. The reason is that the heart needs to continue pumping blood against a higher than normal pressure, so it tends to adapt to this inconvenience by building up its muscular wall to keep up with the demand for blood supply.
If this pressure is still not controlled, and the heart keeps pumping against a high pressure, the left ventricle could fail, in a condition popularly referred to as heart failure. It is one of the complications of hypertension.
7. You Can Reduce Your Chances Of Getting It
Now that we have seen how dangerous this disease it and its likely causes, it is good to know that it can be prevented to some degree.
Here are some tips to decrease your chances of developing high blood pressure:
● Eat healthily. Take a balanced diet that contains important nutrients in their adequate proportions.
● Decrease your intake of soda and alcohol. Avoid them or take them minimally.
● Try to exercise and increase your physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle is a risk factor for getting a high blood pressure.
● Stop smoking if you do or don't start if you do not smoke.
● Lose weight if you are overweight or obese.
Guest Article by Dr. Charles-Davies OA, a medical doctor based in Lagos, he also blogs at 25doctors.com