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Tuesday, May 18, 2021

The silent killer

By Fatoumata S Sarjo 4th year medical student (UTG)

 So silent in nature yet so dangerous in action!

Unlike a gun, it has neither a trigger, nor a bullet but still effortlessly sends the masses to their early graves.

Hearts break at the ridiculous statistics, and tears spill for the love ones we continue to lose to this beast of a killer.

Sirreh has lost her mum, whilst Elizabeth’s grandpa remains paralyzed by it; Demba on the other hand must be on medications for the rest of his life.

An estimated 1 billion victims of this beast worldwide in recent years with low- and middle-income countries suffering the most!

Do not be scared for I shall not relent until I have exposed the dirty linens of the SILENT KILLER!

What is the silent killer?

Hypertension (commonly referred to as “high blood pressure” and nicknamed as the “silent killer”) is a common condition in which the long-term force of the blood against your artery walls is high enough that it may eventually cause health problems, such as heart diseases. It is called the “silent killer” because it usually comes with no warning signs or symptoms, and many people fall victim to it without the slightest clue that they have developed high blood pressure.

The prevalence of hypertension varies across the WHO (World Health Organization) regions and country income groups. The WHO African Region has the highest prevalence of hypertension (27%) while the WHO Region of the Americas has the lowest prevalence of hypertension (18%).

Have you ever wondered what those numbers regarding your blood pressure signify? Well, the first number, called systolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats. The second number, called diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests between beats. The standard normal high blood pressure stands at 120/80mmHg although different values could be normal for different people.

In order for you to be diagnosed with hypertension, your blood pressure must be measured on two different occasions or days. However, your blood pressure readings on both days must be greater than or equal to 140mmHg (systolic), and greater than or equal to 90mmHg (diastolic), according to the WHO.

What causes hypertension?

There are two types of hypertensions or high blood pressure:

Primary (essential) hypertension

For most adults, there’s no identifiable cause of high blood pressure. This type of hypertension tends to develop gradually over many years and is medically referred to as being idiopathic.

Secondary hypertension

When high blood pressure develops as a result of an underlying condition, it is then referred to as secondary high blood pressure. This type of hypertension tends to appear suddenly and causes higher blood pressure than primary hypertension does. Several conditions and medications can lead to secondary hypertension, including:

∑          Kidney diseases

∑          Certain blood vessel defects you’re born with (congenital)

∑          Thyroid problems

∑          Certain medications such as birth control pills, decongestants, and over-the-counter pain relievers.

∑          Illegal drugs such as cocaine.

What are the common symptoms of hypertension?

Just as earlier mentioned, it is a “silent killer”. Most people suffering from hypertension are unaware of it because it may have no warning signs or symptoms. As such, it is essential and very much recommended that one adopts the habit of regularly checking or measuring their blood pressure to be on a safer side.

If at all symptoms occur, they can include early morning headaches, nosebleeds, irregular heart rhythms, vision changes, and buzzing in the ears. Severe hypertension can cause fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, anxiety, chest pain, and muscle tremors.

It is worthy to note that the only way to detect hypertension is to have a health professional measure the blood pressure. Blood pressure measurements are quick and painless and can even be done by individuals themselves using automated devices. However, evaluation by a health practitioner is important for assessment of risk and associated conditions.

Who is at risk of developing hypertension (risk factors)?

The risk factors for hypertension can be categorized as either modifiable or 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, stress, and being overweight or obese.

Non-modifiable risk factors include a family history of hypertension; age over 65 years and co-existing or chronic diseases such as diabetes or kidney disease.

Although high blood pressure is most common in adults, children may be at risk, too. For some children, high blood pressure is caused by problems with kidneys or heart. But for a growing number of kids, lifestyle habits such as unhealthy diet and lack of exercise contribute to high blood pressure.

Complications of hypertension

When high blood pressure makes an attempt of befriending you, then, be swift enough to befriend your nearest health facility lest this killer causes more serious damages to your health. Excessive pressure can make the arteries hard, thus impeding the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart. This can cause several conditions such as:

∑          Heart failure, which occurs when the heart cannot pump enough blood and oxygen to other vital organs of the body.

∑          Chest pain

∑          Irregular heart beat which can be fatal

∑          Heart attack, which occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked thus depriving it of oxygen.

∑          Stroke, due to insufficient blood and oxygen supply to the brain.

∑          Kidney damage, leading to kidney failure.

How can we manage or better still prevent hypertension?

The key to combating hypertension is living a healthy lifestyle!  Do away with excessive intake of salt and limit the consumption of foods high in saturated fats; and please, stay physically active. A pack of cigarette comes with “smoking kills”, and hypertension equally kills! Imagine being a buddy to two killers? You’d be as good as dead.

If you’re already a known hypertensive, trust me, all hope is not lost. Hypertension doesn’t equate to death when the right steps are taken.  Here are a few tips to manage or control your blood pressure.

∑          Stress is your enemy, treat it as such and never welcome it at all.

∑          Regularly check your blood pressure to make sure it is not up to some silent mischief

∑          Your medications are as important as food! Treat them as such.

∑          Adopt a routine medical screening to be swiftly aware of any underlying ill-health. You do not need to be sick to check your health status.

The next time you want to add excess salt, jumbo, jongue, or adja to that well-cooked “benachin”, please, remember that an enjoyment that deprives you of good health isn’t worth having.

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