Reducing your hypertension risk
NCD CornerSunday, July 11, 2021
HYPERTENSION, which is the medical term for high blood pressure, is often referred to as the silent killer.
This is because one might not necessarily know their blood pressure is high since most people have no signs or symptoms.
According to the Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey for 2016/2017, one in three Jamaicans are hypertensive and four out of every 10 Jamaicans with hypertension are unaware of their status. Also, more and more Jamaicans aged 15 to 74 years old are developing hypertension, as in 2017, 31.5 per cent of individuals in this age group had high blood pressure compared to 20.9 per cent in 2001.
Speaking to the Jamaica Observer in a recent interview, consultant cardiologist Dr Andrene Chung explored how people can reduce their hypertension risk. Chief among the actions that can be taken is making lifestyle changes.
“Maintaining a healthy weight, first of all; people who are overweight tend to run higher pressures. If you develop hypertension, it's harder to treat, so maintaining a healthy weight [is important],” she told Your Health Your Wealth.
The cardiologist, who is also chair of the Heart Foundation of Jamaica and medical director for Partners Interventional Centre of Jamaica, said regular physical activity is also important.
“Regular physical activity, not just for weight loss but for the health of your blood vessels, for direct effect on lowering blood pressure, for beneficial effects on other risk factors like diabetes, cholesterol and so on, so regular physical activity [helps],” she said.
The cardiologist also highlighted the importance of a healthy diet.
“So diet from the point of view of weight loss, yes, but also in terms of helping to keep your blood pressure lower. Restricting salt, eating lots of fresh vegetables and fruits, cutting back on things like your starches; processed foods tend to have a lot of salt and ingredients that are not good for us, so definitely a healthy diet,” Dr Chung said.
The consultant cardiologist also said individuals need to know their family history.
“If you come from a family that has a lot of people with hypertension, you are at greater risk of developing it, so the earlier you know that, the earlier you can start monitoring,” she said, adding that regular monitoring is also wise.
“So, every adult over the age of 20 should have at least an annual blood pressure check, and if the blood pressure is found to be borderline then your doctor will usually advise you to check it even more frequently. So you need to be aware of what your numbers are, of where you fall in the spectrum.
“And then, of course, if you are diagnosed with hypertension you must take your medication regularly, you must monitor your blood pressure, you must visit your doctor when you are told to,” Dr Chung said.
She told Your Health Your Wealth that, as a cardiologist, she sees the effects of hypertension and it's important to keep it under control.
“Normal blood pressure is 120 mm Hg/80 mm Hg or below. Once you start going above 120 at the top or above 80 at the bottom, we consider that to be elevated blood pressure. That's a category in which we don't usually treat people with medication, but we start to emphasise the lifestyle changes.
“Once your top figure is above 130 mm Hg or your bottom figure is above 80 mm Hg at any point in time, then we consider you to be stage one hypertension... So borderline is going to be somewhere about in the 130/80 to 140/90 range. Once you start to be in that range you need to be very careful, you need to definitely be sticking to these changes that we talked about and you need to take advice; your doctor may decide that you don't need to start on medication at that point in time.
“Definitely, once you are at 140/90 or above, you are hypertensive and you need to be following the lifestyle changes and probably taking medication if advised by your doctor,” she said.
— Anika Richards
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