Hypertension Affects 20% of Population
Hypertension may sound like something only the obese or those with certain diseases get, but it actually affects more than 20 percent of the population.
When accompanied by complications, symptoms can worsen, eventually leading to death. High blood pressure, excessive cholesterol, excessive insulin and obesity in particular are labeled the ``deadly quartet'' that threatens the health of mankind on the whole.
Prof. Lee Bang-hun of Hanyang University Medical Center calls hypertension a silent killer. ``There are no symptoms you can detect. A mere headache or dizziness does not make you a hypertension sufferer. You just never notice it and one day you find you have it,'' he says.
Only 55 percent of those with hypertension are aware they have it and only about half receive treatment. Only 27.5 percent of recipients manage to see some effects, according to a Ministry for Health, Welfare and Family Affairs research.
Lee says, therefore, that understanding the disease and regular check ups for early detection are the only way to deal with it.
Hypertension, often referred to as high blood pressure, is considered to be present when a person's systolic blood pressure is consistently 140 mm Hg or greater, whereas recommended pressure is between 120 and 80 mm Hg.
Prehypertension is a very early stage of the disease in which the pressure marks between 120 and 139/ 80 and 89 mm Hg ― in this stage, careful treatment can bring back one's condition back to normal, Lee says.
Hypertension usually accompanies old age; veins lose elasticity and become rigid. And with waste and fat accumulation, there is little room for blood to pass, increasing blood pressure. A man in his 60s has a 50 percent chances of getting the disease.
These days, however, the age bracket is going down and youngsters are no exception, Lee says.
The exact cause of the disease is yet to be found but experts say family genes account for about 50 percent of cases. ``We see some people with unhealthy lifestyles maintain normal blood pressure ― explainable as the inheritance of good genes only,'' he says.
Lee also mentions excessive salt and fat intake, obesity or at least weight gain, lack of exercise and stress as main environmental factors that account for the other half of cases.
``Compared to the old days when we ate less sodium and did physical work for a living, we are seeing serious problems. The number of those visiting medical facilities has jumped by 41.7 percent in just four years ― between 2003 and 2007,'' Lee says.
Up to now, except for drastic cases requiring emergency surgery, which usually involves removing small lumps or substances that interfere with hormone levels, the disease is incurable. Through constant medication, one can control the disease to a certain level.
Some are concerned about having to take pills daily for the rest of their lives. They sometimes decide to stop taking their dosage or change their medication. Lee says this is a very dangerous practice.
``It is true that hypertension medication has lots of side effects. But there are hundreds of kinds of medicine with different functions ― calcium antagonism, diuretic and several others.
``There are many more to be considered ― whether one is old, has other diseases, is pregnant or other health issues. Patients therefore should follow doctors' orders,'' he says. There are some cases in which doctors stop prescriptions for 6 to 12 months when blood pressure seem to be in a stable condition, but in most cases, they fail to maintain it for more than a year, he adds.
Maybe in the future people will be able to confirm the mechanism of the disease, find the DNA that causes hypertension and come up with ways to remove it. ``It is not so simple and I don't expect it to be in the near future,'' Lee says.
The Korean Society of Hypertension (KSH) has recently started research in the field by using hypertensive rats.
``Let's say we hope for the best'' Lee says.
Lee graduated from Chonnam National University and has held several prestigious position such as KSH chairman, editor of Clinical and Experimental Hypertension, director in large of The Korean Society of Cardiology and The Korean Association of Chronic Disease Management. Lee is a passionate sportsman, particularly enjoys golf and is also an essayist.