The percentage of persons with high blood pressure or hypertension in Africa is one of the largest in the world – 46% of people aged 25 years and older. Both men and women can be affected by high blood pressure, and the risk of having hypertension increases after 60 years old. The disease has been shown to be on the rise in young adults, so they are also at risk. Hypertension is often known to be a “silent killer”, because it may not present with any symptoms. High blood pressure can lead to cardiovascular disease, one of the leading causes of death in Africa.
Perhaps you or someone you know has hypertension. Read on to find out more about this condition, how it is treated, and what you can do to lower your risk or manage your blood pressure levels.
WHAT IS HYPERTENSION?
Blood is carried around the body by the pumping of the heart. As blood travels, it applies a force on the blood vessels (arteries, capillaries, and veins) that it runs through. This force is known as blood pressure. With this pressure, blood can move around your body and transport oxygen, nutrients, and other substances. Hypertension occurs when the pressure in the blood vessels is too high (especially in the arteries). This can damage your blood vessels and cause other health issues including heart disease, stroke, chronic kidney disease, and eye problems. Hypertension can also cause cardiovascular disease (diseases related to the heart and blood vessels), which is one of the main causes of death in Africa. Sometimes hypertension can cause narrowing of the arteries. When this happens, your heart has to work harder to pump blood because the blood is traveling through a smaller space.
WHAT IS HYPERTENSION?
A person with hypertension may not show any symptoms. Sometimes, say if a person has very high blood pressure, they may feel pounding in their head/chest, light-headedness or dizziness, shortness of breath, tiredness, nauseous (wanting to vomit or throw up), or have trouble seeing things.
WHAT IS USUALLY RECORDED TO TAKE A PERSON’S BLOOD PRESSURE
Typically, two numbers are taken to record a person’s blood pressure. The first is the pressure as the heart pumps blood around the body. This is called systole and is usually the higher number. The second is the pressure as the heart relaxes and fills with blood – the diastole. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
Generally, normal blood pressure ranges from 90/60 mmHg to 120/80 mmHg. Blood pressure that is close to being too high, or ‘pre-hypertensive’, ranges from 120/80 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg. A value of 140/90 mmHg and above indicates high blood pressure and may require treatment to be controlled.
HOW YOU CAN DETERMINE YOUR BLOOD PRESSUE AT HOME
You can determine your blood pressure at home by placing two fingers near your wrist and under the thumb. By doing this, you are trying to feel the pulse of the radial artery. Do not press too hard as it can be dangerous to your body tissues and difficult for you to find the pulse.
If you can feel the pulse, then your systolic blood pressure is at least 80 mmHg. If you cannot feel the pulse, then your blood pressure is less than 80 mmHg. If the pulse is felt very strongly, your blood pressure may be elevated.
HOW BLOOD PLESSURE IS DETERMINED BY A MEDICAL PROFESSIONAL
Blood pressure is measured using a device called a sphygmomanometer or a digital blood pressure machine. These devices measure your systolic and diastolic blood pressure levels.
TREATMENTS FOR HYPERTENSION
The treatments for hypertension may include:
- Diuretics – to get rid of extra salt in the body
- Calcium-channel blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin II receptor blockers – to open up the blood vessels or make them wider
- Beta-blockers – to make the heart beat slower
- Alpha-blockers – to block the nerve signals that make the blood vessels more narrow (or constrict)
- Other treatments that suppress the nerve signals that cause blood vessels to narrow
HOW CAN I MANAGE HYPERTENSION?
Here are two tips:
- Reduce your salt intake – this has been shown to reduce high blood pressure in many African persons
- If you need medications, discuss with your doctor what drug would be best for you to use
HOW CAN I PREVENT HYPERTENSION?
- Identify if hypertension runs in your family – there is a gene that has been shown to be linked to high blood pressure
- Identify if you have diabetes
- Reduce high levels of stress – this can increase your blood pressure
- Monitor your weight – to make sure that you are not overweight or obese
- Avoid smoking – this can damage blood vessels
- Watch the amount of fats and salt that you eat or add to your food
- Avoid heavy drinking of alcohol. Consuming alcohol moderately means 1-2 drinks per day for men and 1 drink a day for women.
- Be physically active/exercise!
It is important that you check up with your doctor regularly, but if you have any symptoms of high blood pressure, or if you have determined your blood pressure at home, you should seek a medical professional.