Hypertension and diabetes often happen together. A person who has any of these diseases is likely to develop the other.
These diseases have been highly reported in recent years. It is therefore imperative that as a matter of urgency, regular checkups and exercises become a lifestyle.
Knowledge of family history is vital and circumspection of what is consumed is also very critical.
This is because among other proofs of the severity of these diseases, in March, this year, the Greater Accra Regional Health Director, Dr Charity Sarpong, disclosed that hypertension and diabetes were the leading cause of deaths recorded in the region in 2022.
A total of 613,633 cases of hypertension and more than 200,000 cases of diabetes were also recorded in the country in 2022.
Currently said to be affecting close to 1/3 of the world’s population, local data suggests that one in four Ghanaian adults aged 50 and above have hypertension. Also, 13 percent of Ghanaians are said to be living with the disease.
Hypertension and diabetes are both leading examples of Non-Communicable Diseases (NCDs), also known as chronic diseases.
NCDs refer to a group of conditions that are not mainly caused by an acute infection but are as a result of a combination of genetic, environmental, and behavioural factors. They mostly result in long-term health consequences, thereby, creating a need for long-term treatment and care. Most importantly, they cannot be transmitted from one person to the other.
These conditions include cancers, cardiovascular diseases, diabetes, and chronic lung illnesses.
NCDs have gained recognition in Ghana accounting for more than 43 percent of all deaths in the country.
The Ghana Health Service (GHS) states that NCDs are responsible for 71 percent of all deaths worldwide, adding that 28 to 40 percent of the adult Ghanaian population have hypertension.
This, according to the service could be attributed to multiple complexities of socio-economic and demographic factors including the rise in risk factors such as unhealthy diet, physical inactivity, harmful use of alcohol and tobacco use, among others.
Dr Kwabena Oppong Amoako, a Medical Officer at the Korle Bu Teaching Hospital has reiterated that more often than not, hypertension and diabetes happen to a person simultaneously. Thus, when one is present, the other is likely to be present too-making them comorbid conditions.
A normal blood pressure level is less than 120/80 mmHg. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that blood pressure is measured using two numbers, thus systolic blood pressure which measures the pressure in one’s arteries when the heart beats and the diastolic blood pressure, measures the pressure in one’s arteries when the heart rests between beats.
Dr Amoako referred to hypertension as a chronic disease characterised by elevated blood pressure with systolic above 130mmHg and diastolic blood pressure above 80mmHg.
Stating that there were two types of hypertension (primary and secondary), he said that hypertension is a major risk factor for other debilitating conditions like strokes, myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) among others.
“Primary hypertension also known as idiopathic, where the cause is unknown but attributed to environmental and genetic factors accounts for majority of the cases of hypertension globally while secondary hypertension is where the hypertension is due to another disease/condition a person may have such as kidney disease, adrenal tumours, thyroid disease, other vascular conditions etc,” he added.
Dr Amoako said age, smoking, excessive salt intake, diabetes, family history of hypertension, high intake of saturated fats were some risk factors associated with the disease.
He said the signs and symptoms of hypertension that may manifest are usually those of the effects of the disease on various body organs including headaches, visual problems, facial puffiness, chest pain, difficulty breathing, producing little urine, erectile dysfunction and leg swelling.
Scientifically called diabetes mellitus, Dr Amoako referred to diabetes as a metabolic disorder that is characterised by the presence of increased blood glucose (sugar).
He said diabetes might occur because of inadequate insulin production, resistance to the insulin that is produced by the body or a combination of both.
“Causes of diabetes appear to be complex with some attribution to genetic and environmental factors. Presumably, the disease develops when a diabetogenic lifestyle (such as excessive caloric intake, inadequate caloric expenditure, and obesity) is superimposed on a susceptible genotype,” he added.
Dr Amoako indicated some associated risk factors of diabetes including increasing age, obesity, positive family history of diabetes, hypertension, history of pregnancy-related diabetes, and polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) in women.
“Symptoms of hypoglycaemia like lightheadedness, dizziness, even loss of consciousness or coma, polyuria (peeing too much), polydipsia (drinking too much water), polyphagia (eating too much), recurrent sores or infections, numbness, tingling sensations, and eye problems are some of the associated symptoms of Diabetes,” he added.
Dr Amoako says both hypertension and diabetes have profound multiorgan effects. These include, visual problems, increased risk of strokes, heart attacks, kidney problems, and neuropathy—numbness and tingling sensations in the limbs/extremities.
Others he said are visual loss (retinopathy), heart failure, myocardial infarctions (heart attacks), kidney failure, and even sexual dysfunction, among others.
Diabetes, together with hypertension and dyslipidaemia (high cholesterol), are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases.
Dr Amoako said the risk of developing both diseases could be significantly lowered by lifestyle and dietary modifications like reducing salt and saturated fats intake significantly, eating fruits and vegetables regularly, cutting down on alcohol intake, avoiding smoking, exercising regularly, and avoiding sedentary lifestyle.
“Also, see your doctor regularly and be compliant with the prescribed medication because, without compliance, the blood sugar levels will not be lowered. Again, your doctor may ask you to see dieticians and other health professionals who will offer advice on successfully living with the disease and how to manage other comorbid conditions,” he added.
Dr Amoako stressed that both diseases cannot be cured but can be successfully managed, adding that “it is key to note that, these are not one-off treatments but a continuous, lifetime process.”
He advised Ghanaians to disregard all those who claim to cure these diseases, as it was simply not true.
“Most herbal medications on the market claiming to treat hypertension don’t work and rather cause other serious problems such as liver and kidney failure which come at a cost. Check your BP regularly at least once a week and seek treatment once your BP is found to be a cause for concern,” he added.