Hypertension & family ties

FOR one family, hypertension — one of the leading causes of illness and death in the Jamaican population — has been a triple threat as three sisters are all now living with the condition.

The youngest, Beatrice Lowe, 69, has been living with hypertension, which is also referred to as high blood pressure, for 10 years. Prior to her diagnosis in 2011, her sisters, ages 82 and 72, had also been living with the noncommunicable disease (NCD).

Lowe, who is of a St Catherine address, said she has had to completely change her way of life.

“Every day at 6:00 am, I get up and drink a bottle of water. Then, I have my green juice; I have sweet pepper, cucumber and string beans and like four carrots in it. I juice those and I have it for the week with no sugar,” she told Jamaica Observer’s Your Health Your Wealth.

“I stopped eating pork and I don’t eat any red meat…I don’t eat mangoes. I live with just a little tip of salt… not much. If I am cooking my vegetables or callaloo, I will put a little tip of butter, that is enough for me. No salt,” she said.

According to Dr Julian Rowe-Porter, a medical epidemiologist in the Non-Communicable Disease and Injury Prevention Unit at the Ministry of Health and Wellness, hypertension is prevalent in Jamaica.

Speaking to Your Health Your Wealth ahead of World Hypertension Day — commemorated on May 17 — she explained that there are two main types of hypertension, primary or essential hypertension, which is the most common type, and secondary hypertension, which is caused by another medical condition.

Dr Rowe-Porter said the ministry is specifically focused on primary hypertension, with the common risk factors being ageing and a family history of the condition.

“You can’t do anything about getting older. You can’t do anything about family history as well, where if persons in our family have hypertension, we are likely to get it. We can’t do anything about those but there are several other risk factors that we can do something about,” she said.

Physical inactivity, unhealthy eating, obesity, excess alcohol intake, smoking, and stress are among these modifiable risk factors.

Having lived with the condition for a decade, Lowe said she has also had to cut back on many practices, adding that adhering to her medication has become a part of her daily routine.

“My doctor put me on to the tablets. That was 10 years ago and I am still taking my tablets. I really don’t run out of my medication, and I just live with the instructions of my doctor,” she said, adding that her blood pressure is controlled.

She told Your Health Your Wealth that she often reiterates to her sisters the importance of medication and following the doctor’s advice.

“My two sisters are living with it and living pretty good. They don’t have no problems. One is 82 and she has no problem whatsoever. I tell them to live by their medication…My next sister is also living with it and she’s pretty good, and is working same way. She is 72,” Lowe said.

The 2016 to 2017 Jamaica Health and Lifestyle Survey found that approximately 34 per cent of Jamaicans 15 years and older are affected by hypertension, and 40 per cent of those people are unaware of their condition. The data also suggested that the disease is more prevalent among the rural population (35 per cent) than the urban population (33 per cent).

According to Dr Rowe-Porter, the health ministry prioritises NCDs because they are a major problem in the country.

“So it’s high on our agenda and that includes hypertension, which is the most common condition that is seen in health centres right now, and generally in primary care. We’ve been doing a number of things. We are emphasising prevention and screening because prevention is better than cure.

“One of the things that we have done is develop guidelines for screening of hypertension, cardiovascular disease and other NCDs. And, we are going to train our health-care workers during the week of World Hypertension Day in how to screen for hypertension — and we’ll be doing that for public and private practitioners across Jamaica,” she added.

The medical epidemiologist also spoke about people who are hypertensive controlling their blood pressure with lifestyle changes.

“Lifestyle intervention is really very important for preventing hypertension, reversing your blood pressure values to normal if they are starting to get high, and if you have hypertension. It’s important for controlling,” she said.

An individual’s blood pressure is based on two numbers, the systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number) readings. The systolic blood pressure measures the force of blood rushing against artery walls when the heart contracts during a heartbeat, and the diastolic blood pressure represents the pressure in the heart when it relaxes between beats.

“The normal blood pressure is less than 120 systolic and 80 diastolic. If you’re 110/70 mmHg, then you’re good. Anything that is 120/80 mmHg and above is either elevated or high. Elevated is where pre-hypertension starts,” Dr Rowe-Porter explained, noting that at this point, people should start taking action.

The health ministry says adults 20 years and older should get a blood pressure check at least once a year, or more frequently if they have risk factors for hypertension.

This year, World Hypertension Day is being observed locally under the theme ‘Know you numbers — it figures! Control and Live Longer’, while internationally it is is being highlighted under the theme ‘Measure Your Blood Pressure Accurately, Control It, Live Longer’.

Dr Rowe-Porter said the ministry will seek to build public awareness inclusive of media interviews, a live Instagram conversation, and a message from Health and Wellness Minister Dr Christopher Tufton on World Hypertension Day.

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