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Once again, Africa is making headlines for the wrong reasons. In a study just released by the World Health Organization ( WHO), Africa led all continents with 46% of adults having high blood pressure. The global average was 40%.
Hypertension, also called the “silent killer”, can affect a person for years and then suddenly make itself known through one of its devastating complications. These include stroke, heart attacks, dilatation of major blood vessels (aneurysms), kidney failure, impairment of vision, memory problems and the tendency to develop a constellation of illnesses called Metabolic syndrome.
I must confess that I have a special relationship with and fear of hypertension. I met it through one of its complications— stroke. I returned home for Christmas in my last year of high school and found my mother paralysed completely on her left side. She had a stroke. She was rushed to hospital. It took her nearly 2 years of therapy and PRAYERS to walk again. It was one of the events that made me choose medicine as a profession. Did I say my mother was rushed to hospital? Pardon me. There was no ambulance. After lying there for half-a-day, she was taken to hospital by taxi. There was no CT scan done. It was the first time her BP was checked and it was high– way high. The sad fact is that little has changed in emergency meical care and services in the 3 decades since my mother had her stroke.
And I have hypertension.
Particularly on a continent that is so poor, we must work to prevent, not just the expensive complications but hypertension itself.
The risk factors include being black, age of over 45 for men and over 65 for women, together with family history, smoking, obesity, too much salt, too little potassium, drinking and diseases like Diabetes, stress and kidney diseases. The age quoted is deceptive. Increasingly, children are being diagnosed in increasing numbers with Hypertension.
How do you know you have Hypertension?
It presents with any of headache, blurred vision, nosebleed, chest pain, leg swelling, reduced urine and not feeling well. Unfortunately, in many people, it is silent for a long time. That is why every adult should check his/her blood pressure at least once a year.
If these checks show that you have Hypertension, take your prescribed medication. Unless there is a problem with cost, your Doctor should check your cholesterol and kidney function before starting you on medications and recheck these every year. And do not stop your medications on your own.
The lists of African firsts is becoming depressingly long. HIV, deaths per capita from MVA’S. According to the author of the WHO study, A. Alisalad, increasing urbanization is making Africans more susceptible to chronic diseases, like HTN and Diabetes.
We need to fight these, starting with Hypertension.
Let’s watch our diet, exercise, stop drinking and stop smoking. On the diet, let’s reduce the salt. Remember the salted (stinking) fish you love so much? Not good for you. And clean water is always better than soda, beer, pito or any alcoholic beverage.
Let the media and celebrities educate the masses, together with the big media hosts and politicians. We can spare a bit of the time we spend discussing politics for health education.
Let us move Africa, from first towards last, in hypertension– together!