It is everyone’s goal to live a happy and healthy life for as long as they can. We strive hard to avoid major health disasters that may alter our lives permanently. Strokes and heart attacks, to name a few, are the circumstances we never want to experience. But our health is as delicate as it can be. It demands continuous meticulous care that many of us are unable to keep up with because of the lack of knowledge, awareness and motivation.
A major health condition like stroke can be one’s greatest catastrophe. Stroke due to a sudden cessation of blood supply and death of one or more parts of our brain that causes it to lose some functions can be very distressing and devastating. Depending on how major the stroke is or how much of the brain is affected, the patient may suffer from hemiplegia (paralysis of limbs on one side), blindness, loss of speech, memory, bladder control, bowel control or loss of higher functions such as decision-making, orientation to time, place or people. In a worst-case scenario, the patient may even collapse and die. Some of them may be bedridden for a long period of time, thus becoming a burden and stress to their family members or carers.
The No. 1 cause of stroke is hypertension, a long-term medical state that is largely preventable. In an affluent country like the United States, 50 percent of the population is hypertensive by the time they celebrate their 50th birthday. Around 90 percent of hypertension is due to essential hypertension. The rest are mainly due to kidney-related diseases.
Essential hypertension runs in the family as it is due to some underlying genetic defects of the sufferers. There are some underlying ‘software’ programming defects in our genes that is situated in every nucleus of all our cells.
But here’s the good news: we have the capacity to ‘switch off’ such deleterious genes and live a healthy and normal life. Yes, humans have the power to free themselves from the agony of hypertension by maintaining a wholesome lifestyle. Genetic engineering need not be high-tech. Like what I have mentioned earlier in my article about diabetes, we are largely what we eat and what we do. Don’t you want to know how to switch off the hypertensive genes and avoid getting all its disabling complications like stroke, heart attack, blindness, etc.?
To do this, we need to fully understand all the major factors of hypertension and modify them before they cast their negative effects on us. Our life is precious. We want to enjoy it for as long as possible and we don’t want these factors to jeopardise it. So, let us take a closer look at them – our true enemies. The best way to win the war is to know our enemies well and weaken them even before they start attacking us. That’s how preventive healthcare comes in. It’s a far more effective and much cheaper to fight off fatal illnesses. But the challenge is to do it with diligence and consistency before it’s too late. By doing so, we are treating hypertension or stroke before they happen. Prevention is always better than cure, that is.
Being sedentary or sitting for too long can cause hypertension. So, get up and do something. Exercise lowers our blood pressure effectively. We should make it a habit to exercise at least 30 minutes a day, five times a week. Exercise energises us and helps our systems function properly, not to mention that it is also an effective way to shake stress off. Any exercise programme that stimulates our heart to pump faster and stronger is beneficial. Brisk walking, jogging, swimming, cycling, gardening or farming can be good options.
Moderate reduction of dietary salt intake to 5 grammes per day can also effectively reduce blood pressure. The World Health Organisation (WHO) strongly recommends the reduction of salt intake to decrease the number of deaths caused by hypertension, heart disease and stroke. Generally, one should avoid foods preserved in high concentration of salt such as salted fish, salted eggs and salted vegetables.
Stress, too, can cause hypertension as it disrupts the stable equilibrium of our normal biological processes. Stress leads to the surge of hormones and steroids that temporarily increases our blood pressure by causing our heart to beat faster and our blood vessel to narrow down, thus increasing the resistance to blood flow. Chronic stress causes chronic hypertension that leads to deterioration of the integrity of our blood vessels and may eventually result to arterial blockage or rupture that is similar to the effects of non-stress hypertension.
Other factors that cause hypertension include obesity, cigarette smoking, regular drinking of large amounts of alcohol and frequent sleep deprivation.
While hypertension is the No.1 cause of stroke leading to significant deterioration of one’s quality and length of life, it must also be highlighted here that hypertension is also the major contributor of heart attack, heart failure, kidney failure and loss of vision.
Hypertension may be a silent killer. It is rarely accompanied by symptoms that one can easily identify. But once it strikes, hypertension can create significant disruption to our health and life. Thus, we must prevent or treat it with diligence to keep it under good control. Working closely with a doctor is the best way to achieve optimal control of the impact of hypertension.
Our health is basically in our hands. Whatever we do affects our health in ways we do not even seem to recognise. And though many outside, uncontrollable factors play vital roles in our health conditions, the choice to live the healthy and happy way is always ours to make. Be wise.
My next column will be on ‘Skin Diseases: Some important advice’.
Dr. Victor Ti, MD, MFAM (Malaysia), FRACGP (Australia), Dip P Dermatology (UK), Dip STDs/AIDS (Thailand), Dip. AARAM (USA), LCP of Aesthetic Med.(Malaysia) is an experienced expat specialist generalist (Family Physician) of BH Clinic, Phnom Penh. As a specialist generalist, he is skillful at diagnosing all general diseases and excluding the sinister ones. Apart from the general diseases, Dr. Victor is also known for his skills in skin diseases, sexually transmitted diseases, minor surgery and aesthetic medicine. He can be contacted via messenger m.me/bhclinic1, Tel: 023900446 or Whatsapp: +60164122977