Dr. Folasade Alli is the Medical Director and Chief of Cardiology at the Lagos Executive Cardiovascular Clinic (LECC). She is a Consultant Cardiologist with over 30 years of experience. In this interview with GABRIEL IFINNWA, she talks about high blood pressure and she gave an insight into the increase in heart-related problems among young people in the country.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. Blood pressure is the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the blood vessels.The pressure depends on the work being done by the heart and the resistance of the blood vessels. In effect, the heart and the blood vessels work together.
What are the common symptoms of hypertension that Nigerians should be mindful of?
High blood pressure often has no symptoms. It is also of note that heart diseases vary depending on the kind of individual and his or her heart condition. For many, chest pain and discomfort in the arms, upper abdomen, or shoulder are the first signs. For others, it may be headache, pain or discomfort in the face and neck area. What I always advise is, people should take precaution and see their physician on a regular basis.
Can children have hypertension?
As a physician, I can tell you that High blood pressure in children can also develop for the same reasons it does in adults. Hypertension is in two forms namely primary and secondary hypertension. The former is high blood pressure that occurs on its own, without an underlying condition. This type of high blood pressure occurs more often in older children, generally age 6 and older (risk factors include being overweight, eating a poor diet and not exercising. On the other hand, secondary hypertension is high blood pressure that is caused by an underlying health condition. Such conditions include organ diseases like renal failure or adrenal disorders.
How do eating habits affect the heart?
Maintaining a good eating diet and positive lifestyle is very essential. Our organ is a reflection of what we consume. Hypertension can be managed through our lifestyle and dietary choices. If you have high blood pressure (hypertension), it is best to eat meals low in saturated fat, transfat, cholesterol, salt (sodium), and added sugars. This of course, is a good dietary advice for everyone, regardless of blood pressure. Nigerians should have a balanced diet rich in vegetables and fruits. This will help to decrease the risk of hypertension and other related health problems.
Are smokers more prone to hypertension?
Yes, they are. Smoking raises your blood pressure and heart rate, narrows your arteries and hardens their walls, and makes your blood more likely to clot. It stresses your heart and sets you up for a heart attack or stroke.
How can stakeholders help to raise awareness?
Government, Physicians, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGO) among other stakeholders all have a major role to play to raise awareness on hypertension and other related health diseases in the country. Moreover, the problems caused by hypertension are made worse when people are not aware of the necessity for or unable to afford regular blood pressure checks. Majority of the society do not understand what hypertension is. Preventive approach is raising public awareness about hypertension through sponsored advertising, public education and state wide campaigns. This can be done using our different indigenous languages, educating Nigerians on the risk of heart related diseases. In advanced countries public billboards are set up to highlight and offer support/ guidelines on how to seek medical support in cases like this. And I think this can be adopted here in Nigeria.
Is it true that men face a greater risk of hypertension compared to women?
Recent studies have shown that blood pressure is higher in men than in women at similar ages. After menopause, however, blood pressure increases in women to levels even higher than in men. Researchers have connected this pattern to decreasing levels of the female hormone, oestrogen during menopause
What is the main cause of the steep increase in heart problems observed in young people? You see people aged between 30 and 40 having heart attacks and serious heart problems.
As a Cardiologist, this is a very worrisome situation. I believe there is urgent need for public enlightenment to create awareness on heart related diseases in the country. Nigerians should imbibe the culture of going for medical check-up. High blood pressure was rare especially with our forefathers, but nowadays young adults have become more susceptible to heart related diseases, due to the fact that they are not taking preventive measures and of course, the lack of public information on this plays a major role. Also, excessive alcohol consumption, choice of diet and increasing stress level may lead to raised blood pressure or heart related problems. The bottom line is – the attitude of young people has to change. Nowadays, everybody wants to drive the best cars, build the best houses or have an expensive trip abroad. What happens is we tend to add undue pressure on ourselves. Definitely, this will increase our stress level.
Is there a relationship between heart problems and blood sugar?
Most people living with diabetes have an increased risk of cardiovascular diseases. The connection between diabetes and heart disease starts with high blood sugar levels. As a result, the amount of glucose in the blood increases while the cells are starved of energy. Over time, high blood glucose levels damage nerves and blood vessels, leading to complications such as heart diseases. So when you eat excess sugar, it can affect your arteries, part of yourbody’s circulatory system. This is detrimental to the health of anyone.
Which is the best and worst food for the heart?
I would strongly suggest that Nigerians go easy on processed foods because they contain preservatives and saturated fat. As a country, we are blessed with traditional foods like vegetables and fruits that are heart friendly. Are we having the right quantity of the nutrients needed in our meals to nourish our body? Also, we should try to avoid too much salt, as it is bad for blood pressure.
Can you give us a background about yourself?
I am Dr. Folasade Olaotan Alli. I am 54 years of age. I am a mother of four children. I am a consultant cardiologist with over 30 years of experience. I was trained in both Nigeria (where I was the best graduating medical student at the University of Ibadan) and the UK. I am an International Associate Member of the American College of Cardiology, a fellow of the National Postgraduate Medical College of Nigeria, and so on. My clinical practice comprises of 16 years at top management level in Lagoon Hospital where I was the Head of Internal Medicine and Specialist Physician at the Health Assessment Clinic. Today, I am a founding member of the Society of Quality in Healthcare in Nigeria (SQHN), and later co-founded Lagos Executive Cardiovascular Clinic (LECC) in April 2017.