One in four Filipinos aged 21 years and older has high blood pressure. It is called a “silent killer” for a reason: hypertension often has no symptoms, and most people are not aware that their blood pressure is elevated. Worldwide, high blood pressure causes around half the fatalities attributed to stroke and heart disease, which are two of the leading causes of death in the country.
May is Hypertension Awareness Month, and May 17 is World Hypertension Day with the theme, “Know Your Numbers.” Knowing your blood pressure (BP) numbers, especially as you get older, leads to early diagnosis of hypertension and its prompt treatment. This is important because optimal treatment of hypertension can cut the risk of stroke by 40% and heart attack by 15%.
For adults, normal BP is defined as a systolic blood pressure of 120 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure of 80 mmHg. A person has hypertension if his or her systolic blood pressure is equal to or above 140 mmHg and/or the diastolic blood pressure is equal to or above 90 mmHg. The proportion of people with hypertension increases with age: one in 10 people in their 20s to 30s and five in 10 people in their 50s develop high blood pressure.
A healthy lifestyle is the most effective way to prevent or control high blood pressure. Eat a low-salt, low-fat diet rich in fruits and vegetables. Engage in physical activity/exercise for at least 30 minutes a day, five days a week. Drink alcohol moderately, and, if you smoke, the advice is to quit. Maintain a healthy weight and manage stress — regular exercise can help you do both.
A low-salt diet is particularly important in controlling high blood pressure. Avoid or limit your intake of foods high in salt such as processed meat products and salty condiments, among others.
If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, your doctor will prescribe an oral anti-hypertensive medication or a combination of two or more maintenance hypertension medications.
According to the Pharmaceutical Research Manufacturers of America (PhRMA), research companies are developing 200 medicines for cardiovascular diseases in efforts to help patients better manage their condition. The medicines in development for cardiovascular disease include 42 for heart failure, 23 for stroke, 20 for peripheral vascular diseases, 13 for thrombosis, 25 for lipid disorders, and 14 for hypertension. If left unmanaged, high blood pressure can cause damage to the circulatory system, contributing significantly to heart attack and stroke.
Although high blood pressure is mainly an adult problem, a sedentary lifestyle fixated on fast food and electronic gadgets is sowing the seeds of hypertension and other chronic diseases among Filipino children. The 2013 National Nutrition Survey of the Food and Nutrition and Research Institute shows that the number of obese Filipinos rose from 14.5% in 1993 to 31.1% in 2013. Keep in mind that excess weight is a risk factor for hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, and stroke, among others.
To prevent or manage high blood pressure, know your BP numbers and adopt a healthy and active lifestyle. Check your blood pressure regularly, whether at home, at a clinic or hospital, or at a pharmacy. Indeed, knowledge empowers us to make the right decisions in caring for our health.
Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP). Medicine Cabinet is a weekly PHAP column that aims to promote awareness on public health and health care-related issues. PHAP and its member companies represent the research-based pharmaceutical and health care industry.