“Know Your Numbers”

Every year, for over a decade, the World Hypertension Day is commemorated to promote public awareness of hypertension and to encourage citizens of all countries to prevent and control this silent killer. Worldwide, hypertension is estimated to cause 7.5 million deaths annually, with over a billion people living with the disease.

Hypertension, also known as high or raised blood pressure, is a condition in which the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure. Blood is carried from the heart to all parts of the body in the vessels. Each time the heart beats, it pumps blood into the vessels. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels (arteries) as it is pumped by the heart. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to pump.

Hypertension is a serious medical condition that significantly increases the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and blindness. It is one of the leading causes of premature death worldwide.

Of the estimated 1.13 billion people who have hypertension, fewer than 1 in 5 have it under control. Many people with hypertension do not notice symptoms and may be unaware there is a problem. When symptoms do occur, they can include early morning headaches, nosebleeds, irregular heart rhythms, vision changes, and buzzing in the ears. Severe hypertension can cause fatigue, nausea, vomiting, confusion, anxiety, chest pain, and muscle tremors.

The advocacy this year is geared towards ensuring that we make it a point of duty to know our numbers. Blood pressure is written as two numbers. The first (systolic) number represents the pressure in blood vessels when the heart contracts or beats. The second (diastolic) number represents the pressure in the vessels when the heart rests between beats. Hypertension is diagnosed if, when it is measured on two different days, the systolic blood pressure readings on both days is ≥140 mmHg and/or the diastolic blood pressure readings on both days is ≥90 mmHg.

Notable risk factors that predispose individuals to developing the condition include the non-modifiable factors such as family history or co-existing diseases such as diabetes as well as modifiable factors which include unhealthy diets (excessive salt consumption, a diet high in saturated fat, low intake of fruits and vegetables), physical inactivity, immoderate consumption of tobacco and alcohol, and being overweight or obese. The bane of prevention is captured in addressing these modifiable risk factors and ensuring that caution is exercised, and lifestyle adjustments are made.

Hypertension is called a “silent killer”. Most people with hypertension are unaware of the problem because it may have no warning signs or symptoms. For this reason, it is essential that blood pressure is measured regularly.

Further Reading