Are You at Risk of Hypertension?

May 17, 2019

World Hypertension Day is celebrated every year on May 17th with the aim of educating the public and increasing awareness about hypertension. This provides an opportunity to increase early detection of hypertension. Achieving control of blood pressure first starts with ‘knowing your (blood pressure) numbers’.

High blood pressure also medically known as hypertension is the leading risk factor for stroke and heart disease. Hypertension is defined as systolic blood pressure reading of greater than 140 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) or diastolic blood pressure reading of greater than 90 mmHg. Ideally, blood pressure should not be higher than 120/80 mmHg. High blood pressure is also referred to as a ‘silent killer’ because it doesn’t present with obvious symptoms. Unfortunately, many people become aware of their hypertension status after they suffer a complication such as stroke or heart attack.

Low blood pressure (also known as hypotension) is diagnosed when one has a blood pressure reading lower than 90 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) for the top number (systolic) or 60 mm Hg for the bottom number (diastolic). Reducing blood pressure to optimal levels is desirable but having very low blood pressure is likely to cause problems in some people such as dizziness and feeling faint especially when standing up or changing positions. It is important to find out what’s causing the low blood pressure so that it can be treated.

In 2012, hypertension was responsible for close to 10 million deaths worldwide. The global burden of hypertension has been growing. In 2015, it was estimated that more than a billion people had hypertension. While high-income countries are showing dramatic improvements in controlling high blood pressure; soaring rates of hypertension in low and middle-income countries are being seen.

Early in the twentieth century, hypertension was considered non-existent in Africa. That has since changed. Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) now has the highest prevalence of hypertension in the world today yet awareness, treatment and control are unacceptably low. It is also predicted that the number of people with hypertension will increase and a large proportion of this increase will occur in developing countries.

A recent nationwide study conducted in Kenya found that out of every four adults one had hypertension. The findings of this study were published by the BMC Public Health Journal in 2018. Among individuals found to have hypertension, only 15.6% were aware they had high blood pressure. This has signification implications for cardiovascular complications and premature deaths. The same study also found that hypertension was associated with older age, being overweight or obese and consuming harmful amounts of alcohol.

Kenya needs to implement more effective policies in order to fulfill the WHO’s target of reducing global high blood pressure burden by 25% by 2025. Effective strategies to curb hypertension include improving early detection, providing an enabling environment that supports people to have healthier diets especially by reducing salt intake, access to fruits and vegetables, and improving access to treatment for people with hypertension.

Today is world hypertension day – take time to visit a clinic or awareness point near you and know your numbers. Prevention of hypertension is key but also, early detection and management of high blood pressure using counseling and medicines is important in preventing cardiovascular complications such as stroke which are complex to manage and costly to treat.