IN Nigeria and environs, High Blood Pressure, a.k.a. Hypertension, is increasingly becoming a problem. It puts people at risk of heart disease, kidney disease and stroke. Already a massive hidden killer, High Blood Pressure is set to sharply rise as Nigerians adopt western diets and sedentary lifestyles.
High blood pressure is twice as high in Nigeria compared with most neighbouring countries and less than 1 in 5 Nigerians are aware that they are hypertensive.
It is estimated that one in-three men and one-in-four women are hypertensive, and this is set to rise to 39 million cases by 2030. It is particularly worrisome that high blood pressure is treated effectively in less than 10 per cent of cases.
As one of the most prevalent Non Communicable diseases worldwide, hypertension is responsible for an estimated 45 percent of deaths due to heart disease and 51 percent of deaths due to stroke globally.
High blood pressure forces the heart to work harder, which can make it grow weaker. The effects can be felt throughout the body.
Systolic and diastolic blood pressure
As the heart beats, it pushes blood through the arteries on its way to the rest of the body. Blood pressure is the amount of force created within the arteries and veins. Systolic blood pressure is measured as the blood pumps out of the heart. Diastolic blood pressure is measured between heartbeats.
Blood pressure varies from person to person and can fluctuate throughout the day. Experts say, over time, a reading of 140/90 may require treatment. The top number (systolic) signifies the pressure in the arteries. A normal systolic blood pressure is 120 or below.
The diastolic blood pressure number or the bottom number indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. A normal diastolic blood pressure number is less than 80. A diastolic blood pressure between 80 and 89 indicates pre-hypertension.
High blood pressure doesn’t always produce obvious symptoms. However, it causes progressive damage to arteries and veins, which can interfere with blood flow throughout the body. This may lead to stroke, heart disease, and heart failure. Other parts of the body, including the kidneys, limbs, and eyes, also may suffer damage.
The circulatory system transports oxygenated blood throughout the body. Healthy arteries stretch slightly as blood is pumped through them. High blood pressure may cause the arteries to stretch too much, leaving them vulnerable to damage. Over time, small tears form scar tissue within the arteries.
Narrowed arteries, called atherosclerosis, can trap plaque and cholesterol, causing coronary artery disease. If the left ventricle of the heart thickens, its ability to pump blood can be severely limited. Trapped blood can result in blood clots that narrow or block arteries, causing a stroke or heart attack. Blood clots can also block the flow of blood to other vital organs. Weak or bulging arteries and blood vessels are more likely to rupture.
Chest pain (angina) and irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) may accompany high blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure forces the heart to work harder and grow weaker, increasing the likelihood of heart failure.
Any part of the body that doesn’t receive enough oxygenated blood is at risk. Pain or numbness may be a sign of impaired blood flow to your limbs, resulting in peripheral artery disease. This increases the chance of infection or tissue death, called gangrene.
Central Nervous System
Your brain cannot function without a steady supply of oxygenated blood. Narrowed arteries or a blood clot can briefly block the flow of blood to the brain. This is called a transient ischemic attack (TIA), or mini stroke. People who have a TIA are at increased risk of a full-blown stroke, an event in which the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off, causing brain cells to die. Stroke can cause severe, sometimes irreversible damage, depending on the part of the brain involved. The biggest risk for stroke is high blood pressure.
Other potential effects of high blood pressure are mild cognitive impairment and vascular dementia, a brain disease caused by an interrupted blood supply to the brain. Symptoms include problems with memory, reasoning, and speaking.
Retinopathy occurs when damage occurs in the small blood vessels that bring blood to the eyes. It can cause bleeding or a build up of fluid under the retina, which is called choroidopathy. Damage to the optic nerve (optic neuropathy) can actually kill nerve cells in the eyes. These conditions can result in impaired vision or even permanent vision loss.
The kidneys filter waste products, keeping what you need, and discarding what your body can’t use. The kidneys can’t function without a good supply of oxygenated blood. Narrowed blood vessels restrict the blood supply, causing the kidneys to grow less and less efficient in removing toxins.
Over time, scarring can occur and the kidneys may stop functioning completely, signalling the need for dialysis or a kidney transplant. One of the highest risk factors for kidney failure is high blood pressure. If an aneurysm in an artery that leads to the kidney bursts (renal artery aneurysm), the internal bleeding can be life threatening.
High blood pressure can cause sexual dysfunction in men and women. In men, good blood flow to the penis is necessary to achieve and maintain an erection. If chronic high blood pressure affects arteries and blood vessels leading to the penis, it can result in Erectile Dysfunction, ED, painful ejaculation, and impotence.
In women, high blood pressure can affect the blood flow to the external sexual organs. That can cause vaginal dryness, painful intercourse, decreased sexual desire, and trouble achieving orgasm. Sexual dysfunction can cause anxiety in both men in women and potentially lead to relationship problems.
Most of the prescription medications used to treat high blood pressure can also cause sexual problems. These include the skeletal system requires calcium to maintain strong, healthy bones. Part of the kidneys’ job is to filter urine. When the kidneys don’t function properly, you may excrete too much calcium in your urine. If not enough calcium remains in circulation for your bones, bone density decreases, increasing your risk for osteoporosis. Bones become weak, brittle, and more prone to fractures and breaks. Fractures in the hips, spine, and wrists are the most common.