Before now, hypertension usually signposted by high blood pressure, was not too common among the young. But physicians in the nation’s hospitals said that young Nigerians in their 30s and 40s are now becoming the victims of the deadly disease. This, they said, was due to ignorance and poor management of the ailment.
To reduce deaths occasioned by hypertension, experts have called for increased awareness on the prevention and early detection of the disease. Experts claim about 250,000 lives would be saved yearly with early detection of hypertension in Nigeria.
Cardiologist, neurologists and some chief medical directors of hospitals who spoke with our correspondent said 70 per cent of the underlying causes of terminal diseases such as heart failure, cardiac arrest, kidney and liver failure originated from patients who did not know that they had high blood pressure.
They warned that unlike before when it was just old people who were dying of high blood pressure, young Nigerians in their 30s now die of hypertension.
According to a consultant neurosurgeon with Cedacrest Hospitals, Abuja, Dr. Abiodun Ogungbo, doctors have calculated that 25 per cent of adults in Nigeria have hypertension.
Ogungbo noted that the reality was that only one per cent of this 25 per cent knew that they had high blood pressure, hence the need for aggressive awareness on early detection of the disease in the country.
He stated that a patient is said to be hypertensive when the blood pressure is 140/90 mmHg or above, most of the time.
Ogungbo said, “One in every four adults in Nigeria has hypertension and this is a very high percentage. More young persons are also dying of the complications of hypertension. Sadly many people who have it do not know. Millions of people are literally walking time bombs because of their high blood pressure because when it remains untreated, it causes heart attack, stroke or kidney disease.
“Unfortunately, I and other specialists like cardiac physicians and nephrologists see people with organ failures caused by poorly controlled hypertension.”
Ogungbo said the disease was often referred to as the silent killer because it had no symptoms. He added that it had been proven that high blood pressure was a major cause of sudden deaths.
He said, “The problem with high blood pressure is that it sneaks up on you. Doctors in Ibadan studied many autopsies and discovered that the patients died from complications of hypertension. Two autopsies studies have also shown that hypertension is the commonest underlying cause of sudden natural deaths. It has no signs, by the time it gives you symptoms such as headaches, anxiety, visual problems and chest pains, it has already done damage to an important part of the body.”
Ogungbo said there was need to educate physicians and health care providers and Nigerians on the causes of high blood pressure to erase many misconceptions.
He said,”Hypertension is not caused by stress, lack of sleep or depression. It is also not caused by the old woman in the village or by an evil arrow sent by a colleague at work or your next door neighbour. It is not that problem at the home front. In about 90 per cent of all cases, the cause of hypertension still remains unknown.”
Also, the Chief Medical Director of Dayspring Hospitals, Agah, Lagos, Dr. Samuel Adebayo, said high blood pressure is no respecter of age, as cases of hypertension in children and adults in their 20s and 30s is rising.
He said, “When I was a house officer many years ago, we diagnosed a 35 year-old with hypertension, it was a shock throughout the hospital. But now, we diagnose 20-30 year olds with hypertension every time, it is no more an anomaly but we are crying out now because it is increasing abnormally, young people still have a better chance of living well with hypertension if they know.”
Adebayo, a family physician, said though the disease could be hereditary, the increase in young Nigerians with high blood pressure have been linked to increased intake of salt and fatty foods, obesity, lack of exercise and inadequate intake of vegetables and fruits among this generation.
He said, “Young people must begin to watch their diet and their lifestyle so that they do not become obese or overweight. Eating fatty and salty food is now a risky way of life no more a luxury. Drinking alcohol and smoking is no longer going to be a trend but a danger. These are all habits that young people must run from if they want to live longer.”
Also speaking on this prevalence, the Managing Director, Pathcare Nigeria, Dr. Pamela Ajayi, described hypertension as a disease of the African race, as statistics had shown that Africans were more genetically predisposed to developing high blood pressure.
She, however, stated that in spite of its prevalence among Africans, more Nigerians were dying of the disease because of ignorance, poor socio-cultural beliefs and poor health seeking behaviours.
According to her, though there is no cure, high blood pressure can be effectively managed for life when the patient is diagnosed earlier.
Ajayi stated that to quickly address this challenge of undetected cases of hypertension to save lives, every Nigerian must know their high blood pressure status.
She said, “It is alarming to discover that four in every five Nigerians with high blood pressure do not know they have it. No wonder life expectancy in European countries is at 75 to 85 years while in Nigeria it is as low as 46 to 50.
“Every adult should know whether they have high blood pressure, normal blood pressure, high cholesterol or normal lipids, it’s important to know your essential health numbers.
“With that, you can establish a baseline, monitor any troubled areas, understand your risks and make the right choices to improve the quality of your life.”
Earlier, Ogungbo noted that a major factor why those that had been diagnosed were still dying of hypertension was poor management.
According to him, many hypertensive patients are not complying with their medication majorly due to cost of drugs and ignorance.
He said,” Many patients say they cannot comply with the drugs because of the cost but we have found out that because they are relieved immediately they start taking the drug, they assume it has gone. This is a 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.
A renowned cardiologist, Prof. Steve Madu, said proper management of hypertensive patients in the country, would save 250,000 lives yearly. Madu said, “If Nigerians can detect and manage their high blood pressure earlier, we can save 250,000 Nigerians from dying of stroke, diabetes, heart attack, kidney diseases and this will reduce the poor health indices in Nigeria.”