Hypertension: The silent but deadly disease
Health experts are worried about the increasing number of people afflicted with hypertension in the region, and particularly in the Kingdom.
Hypertension was recently the focus of attention during a three-day conference in Jeddah, inaugurated under the patronage of Prince Misha’l Bin Majed, Governor of Jeddah, and aiming to raising awareness about the disease.
Dr. Abdul Hameed Gashgari, a consultant in Internal Medicine - Diabetes and Endocrinological diseases - at Saudi German Hospital, Jeddah said: “Hypertension is common in societies which are moving from a traditional to modern lifestyle.”
Changing lifestyles - particularly during a time of economic turmoil - is forcing people to change what they eat and how they live radically. Lifestyle-induced afflictions like hypertension, diabetes and High cholesterol are all related to each other and usually affect a person together, added Dr. Gashgari. “Obesity can be one cause of either of these three problems or genetic disposition, made much worse by an unhealthy lifestyle,” he remarked.
Hypertension is officially recognized when a person’s blood pressure increases to 140 mm or more in systolic (or 90 mm or more in diastolic).
Consuming unhealthy food is also a root cause of hypertension. Professor Dennis Drouin, a clinical professor of Family Medicine Consultants and the chairman of Cardiovascular Diseases Prevention Canada indicated that consuming unhealthy food leads to obesity and therefore abnormally high blood pressure.
According to Dr. Drouin, who was in the Kingdom to attend the three-day conference, another factor is the consumption of a very salty diet since too much salt drastically affects the body’s physiology.
Since the oft-blamed factors of stress and anxiety are also major root causes of hypertension, a healthy lifestyle that consists of regular physical activities and a balanced diet are essential, though Dr. Drouin states that healthy food and reduced salt intake are the first, vital, steps.
Dr. Gashgari said that is it equally important to increase the level of awareness through the media and educational institutions to establish a nationwide prevention program that will enlighten people about the various lifestyle changes they must implement to stay away from hypertension. “The prevention of hypertension is much better than its treatment, and people must learn to implement changes that include taking the stairs rather than the elevator, walking instead of taking the car everywhere, eating fresh fruits and vegetables and avoiding stress by doing physical and recreational activities like listening to music,” he explained.
Unfortunately hypertension gives victims no discernible symptoms or signs, leading health experts to name it the “silent killer,” causing victims to be brought to emergency rooms with major health problems that seem to have come from nowhere.
“Detecting hypertension is very important because people may be suffering from it without knowing about it and it could be damaging their kidneys, for instance, in the meantime,” he added. “Every adult should have their blood pressure measured at least once a year, and the procedure is painless, easy to do and neither costs time nor money. Every school and workplace should also have blood pressure monitoring facilities.”
The risk from hypertension comes from the complications it causes, which may often be fatal if not treated in time. Dr. Saleh Al-Shurafa, a consultant Pediatrician, Pediatric Nephrologist and Former President of Pan Arab Pediatric Nephrology Association, said: “Hypertension can adversely affect the brain in the form of a stroke and encephalopathy; eyes in the form of retinopathy; heart in the form of left ventricular hypertrophy, cardiomyopathy or dissecting aortic aneurysm and kidneys by causing loss of protein in the urine (proteinuria), chronic kidney disease and renal failure.”
These can be minimized significantly by taking our medications as prescribed by physicians, and implementing a healthy diet with less salt as well as avoiding smoking and controlling other associated conditions such as high lipids and diabetes. The medication for hypertension is very important and must be used continually. Patients must not interrupt their treatment when they start feeling better because hypertension is essentially a chronic (ongoing) disease.
“There are many antihypertensive medications, and physicians are trained to select the best of these for a particular patient depending on the case and associated conditions and risks,” Dr. Al-Shurafa explained. “The patient needs to adhere to the prescription and to follow it up with regular visits to the doctor.”
According to Dr. Gashgari, the latest research in the subject shows that people suffering from hypertension can survive to an old age without any complications, if they keep their blood pressure under control so the ‘silent killer’ is deadly, but not impossible to defeat.
By Noura Al-Mazmomi