What kills more Filipinos annually than a dozen Supertyphoon Yolandas hitting the country in one year, or 200 fully-loaded jumbo jets crashing?
The answer is high blood pressure (BP) or hypertension.
It is estimated that of almost 200,000 Filipino deaths every year from cardiovascular diseases (heart attack, stroke, heart failure and other diseases of the arteries), around 86,000 can be attributed to uncontrolled hypertension.
The bothersome part is that many are not even aware that they have hypertension because it usually does not show symptoms until it’s critically high, or there are already serious complications.
This month, everyone can be part of a nationwide activity that could save several thousands from hypertension-related complications.
Dr. Alejandro Bimbo Diaz and Dr. Debbie Ona are this year’s country leaders of the May Measurement Month (MMM) campaign, initiated by the International Society of Hypertension (ISH) in 2017.
More than 100 countries are joining what is now the largest worldwide screening for a major disease risk factor. The Philippine Society of Hypertension (PSH) spearheads the local campaign.
The Philippines was the no. 1 contributor to this global campaign in 2017, and the third leading contributor in 2018.
The PSH has been a vanguard in various local campaigns to improve awareness of high BP and cardiovascular disease, institute population-directed interventions like reducing salt content in processed foods, and convince all diagnosed individuals about the life-saving importance of adequate and sustained treatment.
This May, the PSH is collaborating with its partners in the Hypertension Alliance to have BP screening sites in various parts of the country. One just needs to look for the red MMM banner and get checked.
Some advice on diet, physical activity, and other lifestyle interventions may also be obtained from maymeasure.com.
Each of us can be a BP advocate and convince ourselves, family and friends to have a BP check. If found to be hypertensive, we should make some lifestyle changes, like eating less processed foods and instant meals, exercising regularly, sleeping adequately, and maintaining our ideal body weight.
For those who already require pills to lower BP, they should take their medicines like their lives depended on them, because, truly, they do.
Patient compliance or adherence to treatment remains a big challenge in the treatment of hypertension.
JM, 56, was a successful businessman we first checked seven years ago for shortness of breath. He was diagnosed with high BP at age 35, and was prescribed medications to control his BP.
But because he did not have any symptoms, he decided not to take his pills. He argued that the medicines made him feel worse because of the side effects. He continued his smoking and lived an unhealthy lifestyle.
A month before he saw a heart doctor, he was getting tired more easily and experienced shortness of breath when climbing the stairs. He thought it was just due to work and lack of sleep.
He woke up in the middle of the night, feeling like he was drowning (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea). He needed several pillows to prop him up in bed to feel more comfortable (orthopnea). His wife decided to bring him to the emergency room.
His heart was already failing (congestive heart failure) because of excess fluid in the lungs. His electrocardiogram showed that he had already suffered two heart attacks, and the echocardiogram (similar to an ultrasound) showed he had a markedly enlarged heart, with the muscles hardly beating sufficiently to pump blood.
This explained why his BP was on the low side despite his hypertension. This paradox of low BP in someone with previous hypertension happens when the heart goes into severe failure.
He was rescued from his heart failure and felt better, such that he was able to resume work after several weeks.
Walking time bomb
But we warned his family that he was a walking time bomb, and there was no way to predict when he would have his next serious episode
—either due to heart failure or life-threatening irregular heartbeat (ventricular fibrillation), from which he might not recover.
It happened again before Christmas two years ago. He didn’t make it to his 61st birthday.
It is because of patients like JM that we must ensure that everyone in the family is protected before it’s too late.
The long-term goal is to reduce hypertension-related deaths by 25 percent and save at least 20,000 Filipino hypertensives every year.
All doctors, nurses and other health care professionals are invited to help drum up awareness of hypertension. Anyone who knows how to check BP using available devices can help by setting up screening sites in their communities.
The detailed instructions can also be obtained from maymeasure.com. It contains everything we need to know on how to conduct MMM19: how to organize an MMM19 site; how to manage sites; and how to use the special app to gather the data and transmit it (if WiFi is available).
If WiFi is not available, ISH has prepared an Excel form (available also in the website) which can be used to record data manually using computers, laptops and iPads.
The PSH can even give free Omron BP digital devices for those who commit to screen at least 500 people for the rest of this month’s campaign (PSH secretariat tel. 0917-6255810).
Be a hero—among the lives you may help save can be your own and those of your loved ones.