Hypertension or high blood pressure is an increasingly prevalent health condition afflicting Filipinos. It is also the most important risk factor for stroke and cardiovascular diseases, which are among the leading causes of death in the country.
In the Philippines, it is estimated that one out of every four Filipinos has high blood pressure, and yet many of them—more than seven million of the population—remain unaware of their condition. This is due to the fact that most cases of hypertension do not display any symptoms, making it a gradually life-threatening condition if left undiagnosed or uncontrolled.
“Left untreated, high blood pressure puts you at a significantly greater risk for developing stroke and other health problems that are far more physically and financially burdensome,” warns Dr. Deborah David-Ona, President of the Philippine Society of Hypertension (PSH) and Clinical Associate Professor at the Division of Hypertension, Department of Medicine, University of the Philippines–Philippine General Hospital.
The long-term or permanent effects of stroke range from body paralysis to speech problems and severe memory loss, with hospitalization fees averaged to be at least PHP17,141.50 in public hospitals. But with healthcare in the country being largely private, this is expected to cost higher and be borne out-of-pocket by patients and their families.
The impact of such a dreaded disease as stroke is definitely no laughing matter. This is why the PSH has partnered with healthcare company Viatris for its “Ang Stroke, Hindi Joke!” campaign. Viatris Country Manager Ester Tacanay says, “At Viatris, we are guided by our mission to empower people worldwide to live healthier at every stage of life. Through this campaign in partnership with PSH, we are helping educate Filipinos on why it’s important to know if they are hypertensive or at risk for hypertension, as the disease is the leading risk factor for stroke.”
Additionally, Dr. Ona emphasizes very practical reasons for taking hypertension seriously. For instance, “Especially at this time when the government is rolling out its COVID-19 vaccination program, it is important for hypertensive patients to ensure normal blood pressure prior to inoculation so that they can get vaccinated,” she explains.
“Showing up at your COVID-19 vaccination site unprepared is not only inconvenient but may also be a rude awakening as to your real health status,” she adds. “That is why it pays to know beforehand that you have a clean bill of health, not only for peace of mind but to enable you to maintain a healthy status.”
But amid such health concerns and the strong link between high blood pressure and stroke, Dr. Ona shares the good news that hypertension is a manageable condition.
Under the “Ang Stroke, Hindi Joke!” campaign, Filipinos are encouraged to identify the risk factors for hypertension, get their blood pressure checked, and seek medical advice and proper medication if diagnosed with the disease. According to Dr. Ona, the identifiable risk factors for hypertension include the person’s health condition, diet and lifestyle, and genetic family history.
“Aside from genetic family history and other medical health conditions, it is primarily our lifestyle choices that increase our risk for high blood pressure such as unhealthy diets, physical inactivity, and excessive smoking and drinking,” explains Dr. Ona. “But with the right lifestyle changes, hypertension can be avoided and, in patients with the condition, this can be properly managed through lifestyle changes and proper intake of prescribed medication.”
Further, Dr. Ona recommends patients to exercise more and to adopt healthier eating and drinking habits regardless of age or health status. She also emphasizes that having a heart-healthy diet of lesser fat and sodium, avoiding alcohol and tobacco, and learning how to manage stress can greatly reduce risk of hypertension.
Now more than ever, hypertension is emerging as a serious condition with life-threatening complications. “But armed with the right information, medication, and medical supervision, we can save millions of lives. So it’s important to understand the risk factors and take action to keep your heart healthy, because ang stroke ay hindi joke,” concludes Dr. Ona.