Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is described as “the silent killer” because it often has no symptoms in the early stages. This is why it is so important to understand the disease, how to prevent it, and how it is diagnosed. So before we go into ways to silence the silent killer, let's do a brief on hypertension.
WHAT IS HYPERTENSION?
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a common health condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It occurs when the force of the blood against the walls of your arteries is consistently too high. Over time, this high pressure can cause damage to the arteries and lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney disease.
Your blood pressure reading is comprised of two components:
- SYSTOLIC: which is the top number when readings with a sphygmomanometer (blood pressure cuff). It represents the pressure the heart generates when it beats to pump blood to the rest of the body.
- DIASTOLIC: this is the bottom reading. It refers to the pressure in the blood vessels between heartbeats.
Blood pressure is expressed in millimetres of mercury (mmHg). Normal blood pressure reading would be expressed as less than 120/80mmHg. Anything above this might be regarded as high blood pressure.
CATEGORIES OF BLOOD PRESSURE
- Normal blood pressure: Less than 120/80 mm Hg
- Elevated blood pressure: 120/80 to 129/80 mm Hg
- Stage 1 hypertension: 130/80 to 139/89 mm Hg
- Stage 2 hypertension: 140/90 mm Hg and above
PREVALENCE OF BLOOD PRESSURE
- According to the pan-African Medical Journal, in West Africa, the prevalence of hypertension ranges from around 12% among the physically active population, up to 68% among those that are sedentary. In Nigeria, the prevalence of hypertension has a much narrower range, between 12% and 36.8%.
- According to WHO, an estimated 1.28 billion adults aged 30-79 years worldwide have hypertension, with most (two-thirds) living in low- and middle-income countries
- An estimated 46% of adults with hypertension are unaware that they have the condition.
WHAT SYMPTOMS SHOULD I LOOK OUT FOR?
Hypertension often has no noticeable symptoms, which is why it is commonly referred to as the "silent killer." In many cases, people with high blood pressure may not know they have it until it is detected during a routine medical checkup or when something more severe develops.
However, in some cases, high blood pressure can cause the following symptoms:
- Headaches: Hypertension can cause headaches, especially in the back of the head or at the temples.
- Dizziness or light-headedness: High blood pressure can cause blood to flow abnormally in your veins, leading to feelings of dizziness or light-headedness.
- Chest pain: Chest pain or discomfort can be a sign of high blood pressure, particularly in severe cases.
- Shortness of breath: Hypertension can cause shortness of breath, especially during physical activity or when lying down.
- Nausea: Nausea and vomiting can be symptoms of severe hypertension.
- Vision changes: In rare cases, high blood pressure can cause vision changes, such as temporary vision loss or double vision.
It's important to note that these symptoms can also be caused by other health conditions, so it's best to consult with your doctor if you experience any of these symptoms. Regular check-ups and monitoring of your blood pressure can help detect and manage hypertension before it causes serious health problems.
WHAT ARE THE RISK FACTORS INVOLVED?
There are 2 categories of risk factors for hypertension: modifiable and non-modifiable.
- 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 having excess body fat.
- Unmodifiable risk factors include: age, ethnicity, existing diseases (kidney disease and diabetes), and family history.
WHAT ARE THE COMPLICATIONS?
Hypertension comes with several complications which include:
- Heart disease: Hypertension can damage the blood vessels and the heart, increasing the risk of heart attack, heart failure, and stroke, or even chest pains (angina).
- Stroke: High blood pressure can cause blood clots and narrow or weaken the blood vessels in the brain, leading to a stroke.
- Kidney disease: Hypertension can damage the blood vessels in the kidneys, leading to kidney disease and, in severe cases, kidney failure.
- Aneurysm: High blood pressure can weaken the walls of the arteries, increasing the risk of an aneurysm, a bulge in the blood vessel that can burst and cause life-threatening bleeding.
- Dementia: Hypertension has been linked to an increased risk of developing dementia, including Alzheimer's disease.
- Sexual dysfunction: Hypertension can damage the blood vessels that supply blood to the penis and the clitoris, leading to sexual dysfunction.
- Peripheral artery disease: High blood pressure can narrow the blood vessels in the legs and arms, leading to peripheral artery disease and causing pain, numbness, and weakness.
HOW CAN I PREVENT OR MANAGE HYPERTENSION?
Besides prescribed medication, the most efficient way to prevent and manage hypertension is through dietary and lifestyle practices.
Diet plays a significant role in the development and management of hypertension. Here are a few dietary changes that can help you maintain a healthy blood pressure and reduce your risk of developing related health problems.
- Reduce salt intake: Excessive salt intake is one of the primary causes of high blood pressure. The recommended daily intake of salt is no more than 2,300 milligrams per day, but many people fail to keep within this threshold. Wondering how to keep food tasting delicious without as much salt or as many bouillon cubes? You can do that by adding more natural spices to your dishes, such as ginger, garlic, turmeric, black pepper, coriander, and cloves.
- Increase potassium intake: Potassium is a mineral that helps to balance out the effects of sodium in your body. A diet high in potassium has been shown to lower blood pressure in people with hypertension. Good sources of potassium include bananas, oranges, avocado, potatoes, beans, and nuts.
- Reduce sugar intake: Yes, sugar intake can also have an adverse effect on your blood pressure. Excessive consumption of sugar can inhibit the production of nitric oxide in the body. Nitric oxide helps your vessels to easily dilate and improves blood flow.
- Eat more whole foods: Whole foods, such as fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean protein, are excellent for maintaining a healthy blood pressure. These foods are low in salt and high in nutrients that support heart health, such as potassium, magnesium, and fibre.
- Limit alcohol consumption: Alcohol can cause an increase in blood pressure, especially in large amounts.
- Add calcium-rich foods to your diet: Calcium is important for maintaining healthy blood pressure. Good sources of calcium include dairy products, leafy greens, and fortified foods such as orange juice and tofu.
In addition to these dietary changes, it's important to maintain a healthy weight, exercise regularly, and limit stress. These lifestyle modifications, in combination with a healthy diet, can help you manage your blood pressure and reduce your risk of related health problems.
Diet plays a significant role in managing hypertension. By making simple changes to your diet and lifestyle, you can help to control your blood pressure and reduce your risk of developing related health problems.