PETALING JAYA: Stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure, going blind.
This is what you risk if you have uncontrolled high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension.
And don’t think it’s an uncommon condition.
The Health Ministry’s National Health & Morbid Survey 2015 revealed that one in three Malaysians has hypertension.
And that’s not all. Experts estimate that nearly one-third of those who have high blood pressure do not realise they have it as the disorder doesn’t usually result in symptoms, until the pressure gets too high.
And when pressure gets too high, it may be too late.
Extremely high blood pressure can give rise to:
• Severe headache
• Difficulty breathing
• Irregular heartbeat
• Chest pain
• Pounding in your chest, neck, or ears
• Visual problems
• Blood in the urine
• Fatigue or confusion
If such symptoms occur, see your doctor immediately as it may be a warning of an impending heart attack or stroke.
High blood pressure can be categorised into two types: primary (essential) hypertension and secondary hypertension.
Primary hypertension is by far the more common of the two, with more than 90% of those with high blood pressure having primary hypertension. There’s no identifiable cause, and it tends to develop gradually over many years.
In secondary hypertension, there’s an identifiable cause, which may include:
• Thyroid problems
• Kidney problems
• Certain defects in blood vessels you’re born with
• Obstructive sleep apnoea
• Adrenal gland tumours
• Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs
• Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines
• Alcohol abuse or chronic alcohol use
In contrast to primary hypertension, secondary hypertension tends to appear suddenly and blood pressure numbers are usually higher.
Who’s at risk?
There are various risk factors for hypertension, and these include:
• Age – The older you are, the higher the risk.
• Family history – If a family member has hypertension, you’re more likely to develop it. l Overweight or obese – Weight appears to be a factor. The more you weigh, the higher the risk.
• Sedentary lifestyle – People who are not active appear to be more at risk.
• Tobacco use – Smokers have a higher risk of hypertension. Not only that, those who are exposed to secondhand smoke also have a higher risk.
• Too much salt – Too much salt in your diet is a risk factor for hypertension. This may be because salt leads to fluid retention in the body, which increases blood pressure.
• Too little potassium – Potassium helps balance sodium in the body, so too little results in accumulation of sodium, which in turn leads to high blood pressure.
• Too little vitamin D – Why this is a risk factor is uncertain. However, experts think that vitamin D has an effect on an enzyme in the kidneys that affects blood pressure.
• Too much alcohol – Drinking more increases the risk of high blood pressure.
• Stress – Too much stress increases risk.
• Certain chronic conditions – Kidney disease, diabetes, sleep apnea, these can all lead to hypertension.
• Pregnancy – In certain women, pregnancy may cause hypertension.
Five steps to control blood pressure
Unlike some diseases, we do not have any great control over, hypertension can be managed, and if it is managed well, we can minimise complications.
Step 1 – Find out your numbers
It’s up to you to know your numbers. Get it checked by your doctor first, then monitor regularly on your own.
Step 2 – What’s your plan
If you do have high numbers, devise a stratgey with your doctor as to how you can lower blood pressure. And stick to the plan.
Step 3 – Make the necessary lifestyle changes
There are lifestyle factors that can help you lower your blood pressure. These include:
• Eat healthier – More grains, vegetables and fruits please. Cut down the fat.
• Lose weight – Even 10% will do wonders.
• Reduce salt
• Get active
• Reduce alcohol, if you drink.
Step 4 – Monitor regularly
Your own home blood pressure monitor can be had without putting too much of a dent in your bank balance. It’s a wise investment.
Step 5 – Take your medications
If you have been prescribed drugs to control your blood pressure, TAKE THEM. Don’t attempt to adjust dosage or times taken a day without consultation with your doctor!