Blood pressure (BP) is one of those things you hear about but never really think about until it directly affects you. I only started paying attention when I was diagnosed with high blood pressure in December last year. It happened a few months after my daughter was born, and I had to start taking medication.
Low or high blood pressure is common in Zimbabwe. 55 year-old widow and mother of three, Fungai Makiyi, was diagnosed with high blood pressure in 2003. “I got ill and when I went to the clinic I was told that I had high blood pressure and I have been taking medication ever since. I also drink a lot of water and add garlic to my food to help control my blood pressure,” she explained.
Clinical director at Baines Intercare Medical Centre, Dr Hosea Mapondera says, “When the blood pressure in your arteries is high over a period of time or between two separate readings taken several hours or days apart, then we diagnose that person as having hypertension [high blood pressure].”
Blood pressure is measured by two numbers. The first measures the pressure in the blood vessels when the heart muscle contracts. The second measures the blood pressure when the heart relaxes. Normal blood pressure is about 120/80. Doctors diagnose pre-hypertension at 120–139/80–89. You officially have high blood pressure if you register 140+/90+.
“Hypertension in most cases has no symptoms and is often detected after it has caused damage to other organs which is why it is called the ‘silent killer’. In some cases, patients have headaches, dizziness, tiredness or ringing in the ears. Often, symptoms of hypertension are due to the effects of long-term high blood pressure on organs like the heart, kidneys or the eyes giving rise to kidney disease, heart disease or eye problems,” Dr Mapondera explained.
Hypertension is classified as being either primary or secondary. Primary hypertension has no visible symptoms but is associated with several risk factors such as obesity, excess blood cholesterol, excessive salt intake, smoking, not exercising, a high calorie diet and hereditary factors. Secondary hypertension is typically caused by another disease such as diabetes, kidney disease, sleeping disorder and preeclampsia – a condition related to pregnancy.”
Though many suffer from hypertension, Mapondera says high blood pressure can be managed by adjusting your lifestyle, switching to a primarily vegetarian diet, regular aerobic exercise (at least 30 minutes a day) reducing your salt intake, and losing weight. Importantly, any one of these changes is equivalent to taking a single anti-hypertensive drug. “These lifestyle measures are attempted first for primary hypertension before the prescription of drugs. For secondary hypertension, the illness causing it must be dealt with first in order to manage the hypertension,” advised Mapondera.
What this means is that high blood pressure is a condition that you control with a healthy lifestyle. Makiyi eats healthy traditional foods to help manage her blood pressure. As for me, I walk to work whenever I can and I’m still trying to change other aspects of my lifestyle, though it is something that takes time. Prevention is better than cure, and a healthy lifestyle in terms of good nutrition, water intake, exercising, and rest – is the way to go.
I have learnt a lot about blood pressure in the past month and I hope this column inspires you to go and get your blood pressure checked today. You can get it done for free at most local pharmacies. If you have any of the above-mentioned symptoms, please consult your doctor immediately for treatment and medical advice.
Carron is the editorial assistant at Harare News. In this column she unpacks some common health issues affecting Zimbabweans, and gets expert advice on how to deal with them. Send feedback or suggest a health issue for Carron to investigate by emailing: email@example.com.