Understanding diabetes and hypertension

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By Elizabeth Sitotombe

MAKING lifestyle changes is one of the best ways of managing both hypertension and diabetes.

Studies show that the African continent has seen an increase in the number of people living with hypertension from 54,6 million in 1990 to 92,3 million in 2000, rising to 130,2 million in 2010, with this number projected to shoot to 216,8 million by year 2030. 

 In Zimbabwe, it is estimated that 10 in every 100 people have diabetes. Diabetes statistics represent over 100 000 visits or consultations at hospital outpatients units per year. 

With regards to hypertension, it is estimated that 27 in every 100 people have been affected by blood pressure.

In 2019, the prevalence of diabetes in Zimbabwe was estimated at 8,5 percent and has doubled in the past 30 and more years.

According to the World Health Organization data published in 2020, diabetes mellitus deaths in Zimbabwe reached 3 344 or 3,09 percent of total deaths. 

Hypertension-related conditions are the most common cause of death from non-communicable diseases (NCDs)  in sub-Saharan Africa.

NCDs are responsible for nearly a third of all deaths in Zimbabwe. Cases of stroke fueled by diabetes and hypertension are high and keep rising in the country.

The westernisation of lifestyles has led to the intake of foods high in refined, starchy carbohydrates, leading to high obesity rates and increased prevalence of hypertension, diabetes and cardiovascular diseases.

The combined impact of diabetes and high blood pressure can increase the risk of kidney disease and cardiovascular disease, among other health issues.

About two-thirds of adults with diabetes have blood pressure higher than 130/80mmHg or use medications for hypertension. 

Having a family history of hypertension increases the risk of hypertension, whilst a family history of diabetes also increases the risk of both Type One and Type Two diabetes.

High blood pressure is twice more likely to hit a person with diabetes than one who doesn’t. Someone who is obese will most likely have both high blood pressure and diabetes.  

If high blood pressure goes untreated, it is most likely to cause a stroke or heart disease.

These conditions are as a result of metabolic syndrome. 

Hypertension and Type Two diabetes share similar risk factors which include:

  • following an unhealthy diet
  • being obese 
  • having a sedentary lifestyle 
  • poor sleeping habits 
  • smoking tobacco and 
  • experiencing chronic stress.

What is high blood pressure?

Most people with hypertension do not experience any symptoms. People with hypertension usually discover they have it after going through a routine checkup. 

Blood pressure is the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls. Each time the heart beats, it is pumping blood into the arteries, resulting in the highest blood pressure when the heart contracts and is pumping.

Symptoms of high blood pressure include headaches, dizziness and blurred vision. 

These symptoms, however, may resemble other medical conditions. It is, therefore, prudenf to consult your doctor for diagnosis.

Blood pressure should be below 140/80mmHg for people with diabetes or below 130/80mmHg if a person has kidney, eye disease or any condition that affects blood vessels and blood supply to the brain.

However, it is important to speak to your doctor about your individual condition.

Diabetes

Not everyone with diabetes will experience symptoms of the disease. 

However if they do appear, they include: 

  • excessive hunger 
  • excessive thirst 
  • extreme fatigue 
  • frequent urination 
  • delayed wound healing and 
  • blurred vision

People with diabetis become more susceptible to infections, such as urinary tract infections (UTIs), upper respiratory tract infections or thrush.

There are three kinds of diabetes, and they all have different causes as well.

Type One diabetes

It is an autoimmune disorder in which the body mistakenly attacks cells that produce insulin in the pancreas. The disease tends to appear during childhood or adolescence, though it can occur later in life.

Type Two diabetes

This ensues as a result of insulin resistance. The body loses its ability to respond to insulin. The pancreas tries to compensate by producing more insulin, but the process is not sustainable.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help slow or even reverse the disease.

Diabetes screening is recommended for everyone aged 45 and above, as well as young persons with risk factor for the disease.

Gestational diabetes

It occurs only in pregnancy. If a routine checkup shows high blood sugar during pregnancy, the doctor will monitor the person’s condition until a few weeks after delivery. 

In most cases, blood sugar levels return to normal immediately after delivery, but studies show that around 50 percent of females with this form might go on to develop Type Two diabetes.

Prevention of both diseases includes making crucial decisions in life. Lifestyle plays a pivotal role in treating high blood pressure.

Losing weight, even a little, can reduce the risk of both high blood pressure and diabetes.

Being physically active can lower blood pressure and help manage blood glucose levels as well as bringing other health benefits. As a general goal, aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity everyday. Aim to include strength training exercises at least two days a week.

Follow a healthy diet that includes eating plenty of fruit, high fibre foods, limiting sugar and salt intake as well as avoiding unhealthy fats.

Limit alcohol intake.

Cut back on caffeine and reduce stress.

Including the above, it is important for those already taking medication to continue doing so religiously, even if one feels the blood pressure or sugar levels are under control.

These diseases are not a death sentence if managed properly.

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