30 October 2017

Tanzania: An Overlooked Health Condition - Hypertension

Photo: The Newmark Group
(file photo).

Not many people know this, but hypertension is a very common health condition in Tanzania.

Recently, I volunteered to be part of an eye camp where citizens were checked for eye complications and then referred for surgery if it was found to be necessary, such as the cases of cataracts.

Patients referred for surgery had to be first checked for hypertension and diabetes by medical professionals. Being one of the volunteers who was checking the blood pressure of the patients, I noticed quite a significant number had elevated blood pressure.

Upon asking if they knew about it prior, they did not have the slightest idea that they had the condition. It was quite alarming especially considering long term hypertension eventually would lead to heart disease and death.

Hypertension also known as high blood pressure is a medical condition where the pressure of the blood flowing through the arteries is constantly higher than normal.

If not treated early on, the condition may lead to other complications including heart disease, kidney disease, stroke, heart failure and even vision loss.

Understanding the numbers

Hypertension is divided into two categories, primary and secondary. Primary hypertension comprises of more than 90 per cent of the cases as it's caused by unspecific lifestyle and genetic factors while secondary hypertension comprises of the remaining 10 per cent and is due to an underlying illness that elevates the blood pressure for example kidney disease.

The normal blood pressure at rest ranges from 100-140mmHg systolic and 60-90mmHg diastolic in adults. The ideal pressure in adults is 120/80 mmHg. An individual is diagnosed with hypertension if his blood pressure is above 140/90mmHg while anything below 100/60mmHg is considered hypotension (low blood pressure), the opposite of hypertension.

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), hypertension affects a massive 1.1 billion people worldwide equivalent to around 14 per cent of the global population. WHO also mentions that hypertension causes around 7.5 million deaths worldwide, which is equivalent to 12.8 per cent of all deaths.

Sadly, the WHO mentions that the prevalence of hypertension was highest in Africa where it was 46 per cent for both sexes combined. Men usually have higher prevalence of hypertension than women. Hypertension, according to the World Heart Federation is the single most important risk factors for strokes and causes around 50 per cent of ischemic strokes.

Why Tanzanians need to pay attention to this

Hypertension and hypotension are both serious health problems in Tanzania.

Also according to WHO, hypertension deaths in Tanzania reached around 3,400 or 0.96 per cent of total deaths.

Are there any visible signs?

Hypertension in adults is rarely accompanied by any signs and symptoms and it is usually identified during routine health check-ups and when checking the pressure during treatment of an unrelated medical condition.

Occasionally, patients with hypertension might report of headaches, vertigo, buzzing in the ears, altered vision and possibly fainting. In children, hypertension can cause headache, irritability, blurred vision and bleeding from the nose.

What's the cause?

Primary hypertension arises due to environmental and genetic factors. The condition commonly develops in aging and older people. It can also be caused by high salt intake, lack of exercise or prolonged inactivity, depression and obesity.

Certain events and activities during pregnancy and birth might also contribute to a person developing the condition.

Secondary hypertension as earlier described is due to an underlying medical condition.

Here's how to prevent it

As with any disease, you would rather prevent it from developing in the first place than to let it develop and seek for treatments.

This is especially true considering some diseases and conditions don't have any cure and require the patient to be on medication for the rest of their lives.

In order to prevent developing this condition, an individual must maintain a normal and healthy body weight, he must reduce dietary salt intake and must limit alcohol consumption if he cannot quit it altogether.

An individual must also engage in regular physical exercise and must also consume a diet rich in fruits and vegetables. For people who have already developed the condition, seek further advice from your doctor.

The author is a student at the Hubert Kairuki Memorial University.

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