The World Health Organisation in its health index report for Nigeria in the year 2015, stated that the life expectancy for the country is currently at 53/56 years – for males to females respectively. If this discouraging statistics is anything to go by, it clearly confirms one thing – the needless incessant cases of sudden death in our environment could partly be a reason for this. In recent times our society has come under the siege of the devastating effects of cardiovascular diseases such as high blood pressure or hypertension, heart attack, stroke and even hypotension.
According to the World Health Organisation statistics, from the 2015 world Health Day reports, hypertension is responsible for an estimated 45 per cent of deaths from heart disease, and 51 per cent of deaths from stroke annually in the world. And according to a recent study, it is estimated that one-third of the Nigerian population i.e. about 50 million people, suffer from the disease. The WHO current report on hypertension also points out that 30 per cent of global mortality rate is linked to cardiovascular ailments, and alarmingly, of that figure, 80 per cent actually emanates from Africa and (Nigeria).
Mrs. Pauline Bamidele Aribisala is a Senior Staff Matron who until recently headed the Lagos State School of Nursing; in a community health workshop held recently at Amje – Alagbado, Lagos, she makes us to realise that cardiovascular ailments are rather more of lifestyle-related than anything else. She says Hypertension simply means a “consistent high in blood pressure.” She advises that Nigerians regularly check their blood pressure so as to know the situation with their cardiovascular health.
Understanding Blood Pressure
For a proper understanding of your blood pressure, experts emphasise that your blood pressure reading needs to be taken for like three consecutive times at different given intervals. A person’s blood pressure is the action of the pressure of the circulating blood against the walls of the blood vessels; it results from the systole of the left ventricle of the heart, and is sometimes measured for a quick evaluation of a person’s health.
If the reading remains consistently and abnormally high, then one is said to have hypertension, or is hypertensive. She explains that when the heart is put under pressure or forced to do extra task by reason of pumping blood through clogged blood vessels (as a result of plaque accumulation) then automatically a high blood pressure is bound to result. Also, in the event of any further stretch or ‘stress’ on the blood vessels, a burst is liable to occur in tiny blood vessels known as capillaries in the brain.
This action in the brain experts say can easily lead to what is referred to as ‘cardiovascular accident’ or stroke. In time of rest however, if the heart palpitates from time to time just as may be observed during a time of fright or danger, Aribisala says it is a dangerous sign, therefore you need to check it out. For an average adult, experts inform that any blood pressure reading that is, or higher than (140/90 mm Hg) systolic blood pressure by diastolic blood pressure for instance, will be said to be high blood pressure. And, if the reading consistently remains high – at various intervals of measurement, it is said to be hypertension.
Normal Blood Pressure
What is then a normal blood pressure? Aribisala says in the same token therefore, “any adult blood pressure reading that is at 120/80 where the first number is the systolic pressure and the second is the diastolic pressure, is said to be considered normal. But, it is even better this reading is below 120 & 80,” she added. Experts like Prof. Amam Mbakwem, Consultant Physician & Cardiologist at University of Lagos, and Stephen A. Martin, MD, an assistant professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, USA, have often agreed on one point:
They argue that doctors should desist from “over-diagnosing and overprescribing anti-hypertensive drugs”, emphasising rather that much more effort be put into encouraging healthy lifestyle changes. Aribisala in her discussions alluded much to this argument; “When you are at ‘pre-hypertensive’ state your doctors may not put you on drugs. It is better to adopt a lifestyle change like consuming healthful diet, taking to exercise, rest, and active living generally, etc,” she said.
Symptoms and Risk Factors
Aribisala points out that hypertension (high blood pressure) sometimes may be referred to as the ‘Silent Killer’; however, it does not come without symptoms no matter how insignificant they might seem. She says the major symptoms that may suggest high blood pressure especially if your blood pressure is very high, could be as follows:
‘Consistent’ severe headache,
Fatigue or confusion,
Blood in the urine,
Pounding in your chest, ears or neck
She also alerts the public on the major predisposing factors in the hypertension phenomenon. This includes – stress, and urban lifestyle which usually have to do with the consumption of unwholesome diet; lack of relaxation, etc.
Furthermore, she stressed that from age 40, you ought to begin to watch your diet as well as other habits. “Reduce your sodium (salt) intake; it easily adds to blood pressure rise” she said. Other factors include alcohol consumption, cases of kidney disease, drugs (sometimes – diabetic drugs), anxiety, etc. Still on the age factor, it is important to note that older adults are more exposed to hypertension, she said. Other factors that may pose as risks for cardiovascular ailments are: obesity or overweight, which puts visible pressure on the heart; heredity, (chronic) diabetes and treatment with diabetic drugs, and also pregnancy (induced) high blood pressure.
What we all can do
Mrs. Aribisala says there is always something we can all do as individuals to either stave off hypertension – for those who are not hypertensive; manage it well or get adequate treatment i.e. for those who are already battling with the disease. She reiterates her point on positive lifestyle changes: Referring to healthy dietary habits, she says it is a must for anyone who means to stay really healthy. Thus your diet must be rich in fruits and vegetables; reduce your intake of salt, take to active lifestyle as well as regular exercise while staying off tobacco. She in addition mentions the importance of moderating your alcohol intake if need be, as well as the need to maintain a healthy weight.
Emphasising the need for wholesome dietary behaviour, Aribisala reverses the growing popular idea of eating your meals with vegetables. She helps it further by saying – now you should begin to learn to sing in a new tone such as: “eat vegetables with your food.” In the event of a ‘stroke’ emergency for instance, she advises that the patient should be made to relax while all tight fittings are loosened; avoid agitating the patient, and insert a spoon into the mouth to press down the tongue. This she says is to help prevent them from choking while they are rushed to the nearest hospital.