By Eunice Kilonzo, Daily Nation
High blood pressure, commonly associated with adults, is slowly creeping up on children.
And the triggers are inactive lifestyles and fatty diets, as well as exposure to alcohol and tobacco at home.
Dr Fred Bukachi, a cardiologist and lecturer at the University of Nairobi said on Monday that the rise in obesity in children and other risk factors exposes them to the silent killer — high blood pressure also known as hypertension.
Said Dr Bukachi: “High blood pressure in children doesn’t usually have symptoms. However, when they are diagnosed with it, they are immediately referred to a specialist who puts them on treatment.
“We are currently doing primordial prevention, that is, teaching pregnant women on the importance of avoiding alcohol and smoking.”
A child who was born prematurely, has low birth weight, congenital heart diseases and has certain kidney problems is at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure. Also, family history of high blood pressure raises the risk.
DAMAGE TO VESSELS
Blood pressure is the force of blood as it flows through the body’s vessels.
The heart pumps blood through the vessels that traverse the entire body. The vessels widen and contract, as needed, to keep blood flowing.
However, in a person with hypertension the blood pushes too hard against the blood vessels, which can cause damage to vessels, the heart, and other organs.
Dr Bukachi reveals that the Ministry of Health was working closely with the Ministry of Education to introduce health messages that create awareness on the issue, as well as promoting physical activities and stress reduction in the children.
While Dr Bukachi did not offer a case study or the number of children with hypertension in the country, he said it was a developing concern.
There is lack of a clear national program on how to manage the disease in children.
LIVING IN SLUMS
Hypertension in the country affects at least four in ten people and causes cardiovascular disease, stroke and organ failure.
In 2013, one in eight adults living in Nairobi’s slums battled high blood pressure and only half of them had been tested or received treatment in the past one year according to a research by the African Population and Health Research Centre.
By 2000, hypertension in Africa was affecting approximately 80 million adults, a figure World Health Organisation warns will soar and hit 150 million by 2025.
In Kiambu County, for instance, the number five cause of adult admissions in county hospitals is high blood pressure, while the disease ranks seven in fatalities.
The county’s Health Executive, Dr Jonah Mwangi, says it is a disease burden that can be controlled.
“We advise our patients and the community to reduce daily sugar and salt intakes, to pick an active lifestyle and reduce tobacco and alcohol consumption. These are all risk factors,” he explained.
The Ministry of Health and other partners last year launched a national initiative, Healthy Heart Africa, to support local health systems by increasing awareness and availing hypertension screening services.
Vice President of the Initiative Samer Al Hallaq said: “As we prepare to mark World High Blood Pressure Day (May 17), we acknowledge high blood pressure is a concern in the country and very few are aware of available treatment and how to manage it.
“We are working in 20 counties, with a pilot program in Kiambu, to see how to address this curable disease.”