This story was told by Dr Sunny Ekwunife (MDO, PhD), a consultant family physician with Cedarcrest Hospital, Abuja.
I went to the village 2 months ago to visit my elderly mother. There, I ran into an old friend who I had not seen in over 30 years. We were quite excited to see each other and could not wait to share stories about how the years have simply flown by. However, I noticed that he was limping and the left side of his body was mildly paralysed. We sat down to have drinks and talk.
Since I am a doctor, he opened up about his state of health. Apparently, he had had a stroke a few years back and as he narrated the story: ‘it was caused or induced by another man who was now dead’. My first instinct was to laugh heartily at the ‘joke’. Because as a physician, I know full well that stroke cannot be caused to you by another human being. I chided my friend about arrogating such huge powers to a simple human being who could not foresee or prevent his own death. If he was indeed that powerful, surely HE would live forever!
But, noticing that my friend was quite serious, I quickly gathered myself and proceeded to hear him out in an impromptu medical consultation. ‘Is papa still alive’, I asked him. ‘No’, he replied. His father died many years ago and from stroke! I also enquired about his senior brother. The brother was alive but alas, had also suffered a mild non paralysing stroke. Finally, I asked him what his blood pressure was and he had no idea. Did he know about his blood pressure or whether he suffers from high blood pressure (hypertension) before the stroke? No. Since he did not feel sick, there was no need for him to have checked his blood pressure.
At this stage, I proceeded to try and convince him that perhaps uncontrolled hypertension was the cause of his stroke and that it seems to run in their family. His brother, father and himself suffered from stroke: a common complication of high blood pressure. It was possible that the strokes could have been prevented, had they been aware of this familial medical problem. Needless to say, his blood pressure was ridiculously high when I checked it. He needed medications and better control to prevent future strokes. Perhaps, I have saved his life!
Blood pressure is a measurement of the force against the walls of your arteries as your heart pumps blood through your body. Arteries carry blood away from the heart and so are subjected to the force from the heart. Blood pressure readings are usually given as two numbers — for example, 120 over 80 (written as 120/80 mmHg). The top number is the systolic blood pressure, and the bottom number is the diastolic blood pressure. Normal blood pressure is when your blood pressure is lower than 140/90 mmHg. High blood pressure is when your blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or above most of the time. Each adult is encouraged to have his or her blood pressure checked regularly. You could also buy the machine and do the checking in the comfort of your own home.
Hypertension is the common medical term used to describe high blood pressure. Doctors have calculated that up to 25% or 1 in every 4 adults in Nigeria has hypertension. This is a very high percentage and calls for real awareness among people. Sadly, many people are not aware about this silent killer in our midst. Those who are aware also often do not take it serious. This is why millions of people are literally walking time bombs because of their high blood pressure. If it remains untreated, this can cause a heart attack, stroke or kidney disease. The problem with high blood pressure is that it sneaks up on you. Hypertension usually may present no obvious symptoms and many people have it without knowing. That is why it is called “The Silent Killer”.
If you have symptoms such as severe or persistent headache, nausea or vomiting, confusion, changes in your vision, or nosebleeds, you may have a dangerous form of high blood pressure. Visit your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of these symptoms. The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure measured. According to the UK National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, every adult should have his or her blood pressure checked at least once every five years.
Stroke is a common cause of morbidity, mortality and a significant medical, economic and social problem worldwide. Stroke is the third most common cause of death in the Western world and a principal cause of disability. Stroke is emerging as a leading cause of preventable disability and death in adults in many developing nations. In Sub-Saharan Africa, stroke mortality in some countries exceeds those in the developed world. Its prevention has been reported to be dependent on public knowledge of stroke warning signs and risk factors. The main risk factors for stroke are hypertension, diabetes, obesity, smoking and sickle cell disease. Baseline knowledge about stroke was poor in a population study conducted in Osogbo, Osun state. Ignorance of stroke risk factors and inability to control such risk factors may contribute to high prevalence of stroke among the people.
That ignorance is fostered and nurtured by myths and misconceptions about the cause of stroke. One pastor previously attributed the cause of his stroke to a ‘bad wind’ that blew him while on his Okada. Others, like our friend, have thought that someone else caused them to have a stroke. They forget, when eating their huge meat, Isi-ewu, and other rich fatty foods that they are courting obesity, diabetes, hypertension and ultimately stroke.
Your life is in your hands
You can and MUST prevent hypertension and stroke. Do not over indulge in sugar, salt, fatty foods, smoking and alcohol. Home blood pressure check is recommended. One thing to bear in mind is that hypertension is a long term condition. Once you are unlucky enough to have it, you will live with the diagnosis, so try to manage your risk factors effectively, take your prescribed medication, see your doctor at least twice a year for review and live a relatively normal life.
Each person needs access to a personal general practice physician in the setting of a general practice clinic to look after their blood pressure and carry out regular checks. Most preventable diseases are looked after by the general practitioner or family physician. These doctors like Dr Ekwunife, are trained in holistic medicine and know how to prevent diseases, keeping you in good health. More serious conditions are referred to specialist doctors in a hospital setting. Doctors should communicate frequently with each other and with specialists for help in managing difficult patients.
Hypertension is for life
Non-compliance with antihypertensive drug therapy can be dangerous to your health. Do not stop or reduce your medications without the advice of your doctor. Although lack of finances is the single most self reported reason, other factors related to patients’ attitudes and belief contribute frequently.
Some patients think that hypertension goes away and stays away once they have reached a normal level of blood pressure. This false impression and misconception has ended up being the downfall of many. High blood pressure is a PERMANENT DISEASE. It cannot be cured via traditional methods or by only prayers. Keep praying but do not stop your medications.
Filed Under: Health Sense