DUBAI // People should not wait until they feel ill before seeing a doctor if they want to ward off the threat of hypertension – a “silent killer”.
The condition, better known as high blood pressure, affects about a third of the population between the ages of 25 and 75 worldwide and is a major cause of heart attacks and strokes.
But despite being so common, guidelines about safe blood pressure levels are confused because research studies have produced conflicting results. The condition has no symptoms – although some doctors argue it has.
“We have in the Middle East something called reactive behaviour,” said Dr Sherif Bakir, a consultant cardiologist at Sheikh Khalifa Medical City in Abu Dhabi. “People act when they feel pain, but when they feel pain it is too late. We want to change their mentality from reactive behaviour to preventive behaviour.
“Many people and many physicians believe hypertension has symptoms. Hypertension is a silent killer, this is the main problem.
“You will never know you are hypertensive unless you measure your blood pressure. You have to look for it, if you don’t you won’t find it.”
Dr Bakir was taking part in the International Cardiology Symposium in Dubai, which ends tomorrow.
Patients sometimes wrongly believed their blood pressure was high when they had a headache or felt tired, Dr Bakir said, and this could lead to them giving up their medication when the issues stopped.
“When we discover accidentally that you have high blood pressure when you are tired or have a headache, this does not mean they are related to each other,” he said.
“GPs and other practitioners say, ‘you are having headaches because your blood pressure is high’, which is not true.”
Symptoms only appear when the condition moves to a critical phase where heart failure occurs.
“In this situation the blood pressure is too high and this can lead to organ damage,” Dr Bakir said. “This is a completely different story, but the normal hypertensive population has no symptoms.”
He said a particular problem in the UAE was that many patients took medication to relieve joint pain over a long period. Some of these drugs should only be used for a short time because they can increase blood pressure and have devastating effects on organs.
“Imagine a lady comes to my clinic with knee-joint pain then I discover her blood pressure is high,” Dr Bakir said.
“I tell her, ‘please stop the medication that relieves your pain and take two or three medications for blood pressure’.
“She’ll tell me I’m an idiot. She’ll say, ‘what is this, you want to give me medication for something that I don’t feel and stop the drug that gives me relief?’ We know that some joint pain medications, if used for a long time, can destroy the kidneys, heart and stomach.”
Dr Bakir said the conflicting results of studies of hypertension sometimes made it difficult for doctors to recommend the correct treatment. This could be a problem with patients suffering from diabetes, which is prevalent in the UAE.
Trials have shown that using medication to lower the blood pressure of diabetics to a level regarded as safe for those without the disease can increase the risk of death.
“We are still confused about what is normal blood pressure, the guidelines are confusing,” Dr Bakir said. “Is normal blood pressure normal for everybody, and if someone has diabetes should their levels be the same as someone who is not diabetic?”
The Ministry of Health is using Twitter to warn of the dangers of hypertension, tweeting yesterday: “Patients who suffer from high blood pressure are advised to stay away as much as possible from fast food meals: burgers, fried chips and pizza.”