Hypertension: The silent killer
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is blood pressure that is higher than normal. Your blood pressure changes throughout the day based on your activities; however, having blood pressure measures consistently above normal may result in a diagnosis of high blood pressure or hypertension.
The heart is a muscular pump that pushes blood around your body through a network of blood vessels. Blood pressure is the force of blood against the inner wall of the blood vessels. It is measured using two numbers, a top number (systolic blood pressure) and a bottom number (diastolic blood pressure). A normal blood pressure is less than 120/80.
Hypertension is a chronic condition in which the blood pressure is consistently high, measuring 140/90 or more. This condition is very common in Jamaica, affecting one in three adults over 15 years of age, and is a major cause of illness, disability and death.
Dr Julia Rowe-Porter, medical epidemiologist, at the Non-Communicable Disease and Injury Prevention Unit with the Ministry of Health and Wellness, said the main factors that put persons at risk of developing hypertension include having a family history of hypertension, stroke or heart attack; getting older; unhealthy eating including excess salt intake; excess body weight (overweight or obesity); physical inactivity; smoking; excess alcohol intake; and excess stress.
“Hypertension usually does not cause any symptoms, which is why it is called the ‘silent killer’. Symptoms can occur when the blood pressure is very high, and include headaches, dizziness, weakness or fatigue, blurred vision, unusual bleeding (nose bleeding, urine), chest pain, palpitations (racing heart) or difficulty breathing. Persons with these symptoms should get a medical assessment right away,” Dr Rowe-Porter said.
Uncontrolled hypertension, she said, can cause irreversible damage to your blood vessels, heart and other major organs, leading to serious complications like stroke, heart attack, ischemia heart disease (angina), heart failure, kidney failure, blindness, sexual dysfunction and poor circulation.
According to Dr Rowe-Porter, the Ministry of Health and Wellness has three main approaches to prevent and control hypertension and its complications, which are expected to help decrease the significant burden of the disease on our population.
These approaches include preventing and delaying the onset of hypertension by raising awareness and creating supportive environments for the adoption of healthy lifestyles, including salt reduction, increasing fresh fruit and vegetable intake, getting physically active, quitting smoking and reducing harmful use of alcohol.
“We also promote screening and early detection of elevated and high blood pressure in persons who are unaware of their blood pressure problem and providing appropriate treatment, care and support for persons diagnosed with hypertension,” Dr Rowe-Porter said.
Key initiatives include Jamaica Moves, the ban on tobacco use in public spaces, launch of a website ( ncdip.moh.gov.jm) with a wealth of information and resources on prevention and control of hypertension and other non-communicable diseases, and provision of free and low-cost medication through the National Health Fund.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, healthy lifestyle is key. Take the steps to exercise, maintain a healthy weight, reduce salty, fatty high-calorie foods, quit smoking, reduce alcohol intake and manage your stress.
It is also important to know your blood pressure numbers so you can be empowered to reach and maintain your blood goal. Take your medication as prescribed, and getting the necessary support from your family and friends goes a far way in motivating you on your journey to controlling your blood pressure.
SOURCE: Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, Ministry of Health and Wellness