Wellness & Fitness

Hypertension: How to cut chances of the 'silent killer' stalking you


Hypertension is the most common cardiovascular risk factor in Africa with one in every three adult Africans affected. FILE PHOTO | SHUTTERSTOCK

Non-communicable diseases (NCDs), such as high blood pressure (hypertension), in low and middle-income countries including Kenya, are increasing rapidly.

Blood pressure is the measurement of the force of blood pushing against blood vessel walls. Hypertension is today the number one risk factor for heart disease and death in the world.

It is also the most common cardiovascular risk factor in Africa with one in every three adult Africans affected.

Here is what you need to know about this condition.

What happens when I have hypertension?

When you have hypertension, it means the pressure against the blood vessel walls in your body is consistently too high.

High blood pressure is often called the “silent killer” because you may not be aware that anything is wrong, but the damage is still occurring within your body.

About 25 percent of Kenyan adults are suffering from hypertension, a major cause of stroke, heart failure, eye damage, complications during pregnancy, kidney failure, and coronary artery disease.

Do most people know they have elevated blood pressure?

In Kenya today, more than 50 percent of hospital admissions are due to lifestyle diseases. The fact that a quarter of the Kenyan population has elevated blood pressure but half of these are not aware leaves millions of Kenyans untreated and can be considered a ticking time bomb.

There is, therefore, a need to increase high blood pressure awareness in all populations by mobilising them to get screened.

How do I know I have high blood pressure?

Hypertension usually doesn’t cause symptoms. The only way to know is to get screened regularly. Know your numbers so you can make lifestyle changes that help prevent or limit the damage.

What are the likely causes of high blood pressure?

With the increasing urbanisation and wider availability of processed foods, a lifestyle transition is taking place. Tastes and preferences of foods are changing rapidly.

Traditional staples such as legumes and starches rich in fibre and the occasional meat or fish that were previously steamed or boiled are now exchanged with highly processed carbohydrates, meat, and fried foods.

High-calorie diets and diets high in refined carbohydrates such as soft drinks are catalysts for developing hypertension.

Any risk factors for blood pressure?

The likely causes coupled with obesity - where 38 percent of Kenyans are overweight including lack of physical activity and high intake of salt are conditions that worsen the situation and call for greater awareness to avert elevated blood pressure incidences.

Others include tobacco and alcohol intake and having a history of hypertension in the family.

Is blood pressure treatable and how long does it last?

If you have primary high blood pressure, you’ll need to manage it for the rest of your life.

If you have secondary high blood pressure, your blood pressure will most likely come down after receiving treatment for the medical problem that caused it.

If a medication caused your high blood pressure, switching to a different medicine may lower your blood pressure.

What can be done to cut risks?

To avoid or minimise your risk of hypertension, it’s advisable to modify your lifestyle by being more physically active, eating right especially less processed foods low in fat and salt as well as fruits and vegetables, avoiding tobacco and alcohol and keeping a healthy weight

On treatment, the healthcare system should focus on subsidising the cost of treatment of hypertension in public hospitals. However, without awareness, the untreated cases may not be identified.

Hypertension often shows no symptoms, which makes it harder to convince patients to adhere to treatment.

In such cases, especially among those from poor resource settings, a case of balancing between basic needs and seeking healthcare is often not enough incentive for them to adhere to treatment.

To mitigate this, the government’s universal healthcare coverage plan hopes to have National Hospital Insurance Fund cover chronic lifestyle diseases including hypertension which have already to a large extent taken a huge toll on family expenditure.

Dr Mohamed is a consultant Interventional Cardiologist.