Thursday, 30 May 2013

Hypertension: A Silent Killer

Hypertension, commonly called high blood pressure or ‘pressure’, continues to be a serious condition especially among black people. It is considered to be one of the most treatable diseases that can result in complications, disability and death. Despite the availability of screening programmes and treatment options, this ‘silent killer’ is linked to lack of knowledge. Prevention of this disease can be achieved by the adoption of a healthier lifestyle starting in childhood and continuing into adult life. Blood pressure (BP) is defined as the force exerted by the blood against the walls of the blood vessels as it circulates, whereas hypertension is a condition in which the blood pressure is consistently above normal range over a period of time.

Research findings indicate that the rate of hypertension varies between nine and 20%, and increases with age with women being more affected (16%) than men (11%). Hypertension is considered to be among the chronic diseases which contribute to approximately 60% of the 56.5 million reported deaths in the world; and the prevalence of the disease is higher among black people compared to other races. This disease can cause renal failure, heart ailments and stroke.

The cause of hypertension is unknown, but there are a number of contributing factors: excess salt, obesity, insulin resistance, genetics, low birth weight, excess alcohol consumption, chronic stress and lack of exercise. With aging, the arteries’ inability to expand to allow smooth blood flow, can contribute to elevated blood pressure.
It has been noted that most people with mild to moderate hypertension may not experience any symptoms. However, as the disease progresses, the person may complain of fatigue, dizziness, throbbing headache, confusion, difficulty seeing, nose bleed and even coma. These signs and symptoms may not occur until the BP is dangerously high and considered life threatening. Persons who experience these signs and symptoms should visit a clinic or hospital. High blood pressure should be treated promptly. Unfortunately, because high BP develops slowly and silently resulting in delayed diagnosis, damage to organs may occur.

Before treatment, a thorough medical examination of the signs and symptoms and relevant laboratory works should be done. The approach for treating high BP is two-fold: lifestyle and medical intervention. In order for the approaches to be effective, the person must understand the importance of regular BP checks.

The lifestyle changes include: lowering salt intake, eating a diet high in fruits and vegetables and low in fat, maintain an ideal weight, stop smoking, participate in regular exercise, reduce stress and eliminate alcohol consumption. With the use of medication, it is important that the BP is lowered gradually. An appropriate medication will be prescribed and the person is expected to follow the instructions. The goal of health is for persons to live long while experiencing good health.

Article by Heather F. Fletcher RN, CNS, MSN
Assistant Professor, Nursing, Northern Caribbean University