Let’s adhere to our medication, live longer

John Omagino

What you need to know:

One in every four Ugandans suffers from high or low blood pressure, yet less than 80 per cent of Ugandans know their blood pressure status.

May 17 was World Hypertension Day. As per the theme this year go; “Measure Your Blood Pressure Accurately, Control It, Live Longer,” let’s remind and encourage ourselves to prevent the silent disease.

Hypertension is largely a painless disease, and the most effective method of early diagnosis is routine medical checks. Most people diagnosed with the condition have never known they have it. People think they will have symptoms which is not the case, unlike other diseases like malaria.

By the time you start having headaches, tiredness and vision as some of the symptoms, it has already caused complications, and we have to use more medications to treat complications. I would encourage each of us to have our blood pressure checked at least once a year and ask a doctor to do so every time we go to the hospital. If you are diagnosed with blood pressure, it should be monitored daily and work with your doctor to ensure it is controlled.

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a disease of the blood vessels which occurs when the heart generates more pressure to pump blood to the rest of the body. This is usually due to the narrowing of the vessels, which creates complications.

Blood pressure readings of less than 120/80 millimetres of mercury (mm Hg) are within the normal ranges. If your results fall into this category, stick with heart-healthy habits like following a balanced diet, reducing and getting regular exercise. Elevated blood pressure is when readings consistently range from 120-129 systolic and less than 80 mm Hg diastolic. People with elevated blood pressure are likely to develop high blood pressure unless steps are taken to control the condition.

Poor lifestyle is highly to blame. Our diet is high on carbohydrates and low on fruits, vegetables and vitamins, making us candidates for heart disease. Whoever gets some money chooses a lifestyle of feeding on junk food and driving the car at all times, which is harmful to the body.

Although the condition can be prevented with lifestyle changes like reduced stress and weight control, sometimes the cause cannot be found and cannot be controlled. Therefore, we need to concentrate on the risk factors we can control.

Unfortunately, primary hypertension accounts for 90 per cent of the cases we receive at the Uganda Heart Institute in Mulago. One of the things you have to do is to control the amount of salt intake. Therefore, we should be worried about the salt we take, including the first foods. Exercising also helps reduce high blood pressure by 10mm, and research has proved that once it is started early, it delays the condition.

For the last ten years, 25-30 per cent of the Ugandan population have had high blood pressure, translating to a third of the general population and stressing the health services already grappling with communicable diseases. This is because we have to deal with the complications of hypertension.

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause stroke, heart attack, heart failure and other heart conditions; cause damage to your kidneys, memory and vision; and contribute to erectile dysfunction.

Because high blood pressure affects so many people, opportunists come up with all sorts of solutions to take advantage of desperate patients. As scientists, the only way treatment can come into the mainstream is by doing clear studies around whatever you are trying to promote. Therefore, we encourage patients to work with their doctors and only consume the medication they are prescribed.

Hypertension does not cure except in cases where doctors can find its cause. For example, kidney diseases and obesity are some conditions that cause treatable hypertension also known as secondary hypertension and can be cured. Therefore, the doctors can take you off the medicine after treating the underlying problems after your blood pressure has gone down. That is the only curable form of hypertension, unlike the primary whose cause is not known and can only be controlled. The curable form of hypertension is only 10 percent of blood pressure cases.

Obese children are also prone to hypertension earlier in life than their colleagues with normal weight. This is because blood pressure is higher among obese children even when it might not be in the abnormal range.

This also explains the fact that most of the blood pressure patients we have at the institute at the age of 25-35 are obese. Luckily when they start a lifestyle change, the blood pressure lowers and can get off the medication.

Not to forget, one in every four Ugandans suffers from high or low blood pressure, yet less than 80 per cent of Ugandans know their blood pressure status. These figures are still high, and we need to reverse them

Dr. John Omagino is the Executive Director of the Uganda Heart Institute.