Hypertension, which is also known as high blood pressure, is a silent killer. The disease, which often has no symptom, has killed many people prematurely.
While the condition used to be associated with elderly people in their 50s and 60s, experts nowadays have raised the alarm that they are seeing more Nigerians in their 20s and 30s with this condition. For instance, they note that more teenagers come down with high blood pressure these days.
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A heart specialist, Dr. Jude Duru-Onweni, identifies poor diet and increased intake of junk and processed foods, especially among young people, as one of the factors increasing the population of young persons with hypertension in the country.
According to him, many of the western diets that young and upwardly mobile Nigerians prefer are laden with high concentration of salt, a major substance that increases the risk for hypertension.
Duru-Onweni notes that a major way in which salt creeps into the body system is through food.
He says, “Studies have found that most Africans who have hypertension will always have sodium retention. Sodium is what many of us know as salt. There is a proof that the black DNA system cannot manage salt, as it predisposes us to high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.
“The number of young Nigerians we see with high blood pressure during screening is alarming and it is because of the western diets. Young people eat more junk. They have adopted the western diet that has high concentrations of salt and they forget that Caucasians and other race can tolerate salt better than we can.
“Salt is not just the physical salt we see. All packaged foods are preserved with a high concentration of salt. Soft drinks are also preserved with salt. In reality, all those ‘slow’ (indicating how fast foods slow down metabolism) foods which people call fast foods slowly lead to death because they are laden with salt.
“We are so scared about the coming generation because they eat a lot of fast foods. We now find hypertension in infants,” Duru-Onweni adds.
For the Executive Director, Nigerian Heart Foundation, Dr. Kingsley Akinroye, uncontrolled and undetected hypertension is increasing the incidence of heart diseases in young people.
According to Akinroye, people can develop hypertension if they have the risk factors for high blood pressure.
He says, “The number one challenge we have in Nigeria and Africa is heart disease. The major cause of heart disease is hypertension or high blood pressure. It is a killer because once you cross the age of five, you are susceptible to it if you have poor dietary habit.”
The cardiologist notes that apart from the high salt content in food, local studies have also shown that the concentration of salt in many sources of water in the country is high.
“The salt content in many of the table water we drink in Nigeria is high. That is why we advise Nigerians to look out for NAFDAC and NHFcertified water to ensure that they are not directly exposing themselves to high level of sodium when they drink water.”
Corroborating this view, the Executive Director, Fight The Good Fight Against Hypertension, Mr. Emmanuel Ekunno, says the prevalence of hypertension among Nigerians has increased.
He identifies poor awareness about the dangers of the disease and poor health-seeking attitude of many Nigerians as being responsible for the increasing prevalence of hypertension in the country.
He declares, “Studies have shown that one-third of the Nigerian population is suffering from hypertension. The sad thing is that one third of the hypertensive group does not even know. When we screen 100 people, 39 per cent of them have hypertension. Curiously, they are young people.
“In our clinic at times, we see that six out of 10 persons screened have high blood pressure. It is alarming both in cities and rural areas,”
Experts warn that ignorance is not an excuse, as undetected hypertension can lead to stroke, kidney failure, and sudden death. In this regard, Duru-Onweni describes individuals who do not know or manage high blood pressure as walking corpses. In his thinking, these people can drop dead at any time.
He notes also that as deadly as the disease is, with drugs and a change in diet and lifestyle, there is hope in the horizon for its management.
“Hypertension has no cure; it can only be managed. That is why you should screen to know if you have high blood pressure. If you do, take your medication regularly because hypertension does not sleep.“Manage your salt intake, exercise regularly and control your alcohol intake,” Duru-Onweni counselled.
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