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Know your numbers

by Melissa Rollock

Everyone should know their numbers! This is not a reference to “stats” or your weight. These numbers are the most important figures you’ll ever come across — your systolic and diastolic blood pressure readings. And they could save your life!

As Barbadians and the rest of the world marked World Health Day on Sunday, April 7, they should keep in mind this year’s theme: High Blood Pressure.

Normal blood pressure is said to be in the systolic range of 120-129 and diastolic range of 80-84mmHg i.e. 120/80mmHg to 129/84mmHg. High blood pressure is defined as blood pressure in the systolic range of 140-159 and diastolic range of 90-99mmHg i.e. 140/90mmHg — 159/99mmHg.

According to the World Health Organisation’s 2011 Country Profile, Non-Communicable Diseases account for 82 per cent of all deaths in Barbados. High blood pressure is an underlying risk factor for some of them such as heart attacks, strokes and chronic kidney disease.


Dr. Kenneth George

Senior Medical Officer for Non-Communicable Diseases, in the Ministry of Health, Dr. Kenneth George, said that high blood pressure or hypertension was “by far the most common chronic disease in Barbados”. He pointed out that it was usually asymptomatic and, in many cases, persons only discovered their blood pressure was elevated during routine doctor visits.

He added that while some individuals with elevated blood pressure complained of dizziness and headaches, these were not reliable signs of hypertension. Additionally, the officer explained that more than 95 per cent of cases could be classified as “essential hypertension”, which meant no immediate cause could be found. However, factors such as family history made persons more susceptible to developing the condition, he admitted.

The physician explained that in the other five per cent of cases, hypertension may be caused by prescription drugs, kidney disease “from other causes”, thyroid disease and other endocrine disorders.

“In Barbados, we know that 22 per cent of the adult population has hypertension. It is estimated that in those over age 65, this can be as high as 40 per cent. Based on Barbados National Registry statistics for 2009 and 2010, hypertension is the single most important risk factor for the development of strokes and coronary artery disease in Barbados.

“If there was any intervention you wanted to do to reduce the level of chronic diseases in Barbados, hypertension would be the easiest one to target,” George stressed.

He explained that hypertension could be classified as mild, moderate or severe and the treatment was usually a combination of diet, exercise and pharmaco therapy.

“In Barbados, there are a wider range of various categories of drugs to treat hypertension which are available on the Barbados Drug Formulary free of cost to all residents. Moderate physical activity has a good outcome for hypertension; brisk walking, line dancing and swimming all have a positive and immediate effect on lowering blood pressure,” he stated.

“That’s why the World Health Day celebrations of recognising the contribution of high blood pressure to Non-Communicable Diseases is timely. Therefore, every effort will be made within the public health arena to engage all of Barbados including the private and public sectors as well as civil society on the contribution of hypertension to the possible ill health of all Barbadians.”

The good news is that high blood pressure is both preventable and treatable. The WHO reports that in some developed countries, prevention and treatment of the condition, has brought about a reduction in deaths from heart disease. Besides regular physical activity, the risk of developing high blood pressure can be reduced by lowering salt intake, eating a balanced diet, avoiding harmful use of alcohol, maintaining a healthy body weight, and avoiding tobacco use.

George maintained that it was crucial for persons to “know your numbers and set small targets for reduction” if the battle against high blood pressure and Chronic Non-Communicable Diseases is to be won.

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