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High blood pressure (arterial hypertension) and its consequences

Increased blood pressure is a relatively common condition that can have fatal long-term consequences. Consistent treatment for it is worthwhile. High blood pressure is a relatively common condition in Uganda, affecting around 26.4% of adults. This is higher than the global average of 23.3%. High blood pressure is often called "the silent killer" because it often does not cause any symptoms in the early stages. However, if left untreated, it can lead to serious health problems such as heart disease, stroke, and kidney failure.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines high blood pressure as a systolic blood pressure of 140 mmHg or higher, or a diastolic blood pressure of 90 mmHg or higher. This condition arises frequently in industrialized countries. An exact number is difficult to estimate, as many studies have shown. In Uganda, the prevalence of high blood pressure is higher in urban areas (28.9%) than in rural areas (25.8%). It is also higher in men (28.5%) than in women (24.3%).

Usually no cause of high blood pressure can be determined

The causes of high blood pressure are not fully understood, but there are a number of factors that can increase the risk, including:

  • Age: High blood pressure is more common in older adults.
  • Family history: If you have a family history of high blood pressure, you are more likely to develop it yourself.
  • Weight: Obesity is a major risk factor for high blood pressure.
  • Physical activity: People who are physically inactive are more likely to develop high blood pressure.
  • Smoking: Smoking damages the blood vessels and increases the risk of high blood pressure.
  • Excessive salt intake: Eating too much salt can raise blood pressure.
  • Too much alcohol: Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure.

If arterial hypertension arises because of another underlying condition, then it is referred to as 'secondary'. Among these cases are high blood pressure due to kidney disease, disorder of hormone balance, tumours, or circulatory conditions.  In these cases, the cause must of course be treated or removed. Usually, however, the medical professional will not find any particular trigger for arterial hypertension and will label it 'primary'.

If you have high blood pressure, it is important to work with your doctor to manage your condition. Your doctor will likely recommend lifestyle changes and medication to help you lower your blood pressure and reduce your risk of developing serious health problems. Quitting smoking, healthy diet, and regular movement are factors which can have a positive influence on high blood pressure.

Here are some additional things to keep in mind about high blood pressure in Uganda:

  • The cost of treatment for high blood pressure can be high, especially for people who do not have health insurance.
  • There may be a shortage of doctors and other health care providers who are trained to diagnose and treat high blood pressure.

The quality of care for high blood pressure can vary depending on the location. Besides this there is an entire array of medications available to optimize the blood pressure. Usually it starts with just one single drug. If the effect isn't sufficient, more medications can gradually be added. There are patients who take four or more different drugs. It's always worth tackling hypertension early and to get it under control. Compared to the threatening long-term consequences, the measures needed to achieve optimal blood pressure  are usually less invasive for the patient.

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