Raising awareness on lowering blood pressure
Did you know that only half of people with high blood pressure are aware of it? Bettina Wallace was one of those people until she collapsed during her daily commute.
“I was on the train home with my colleague and mentioned that I wasn’t feeling very well. Next thing I knew, I woke up and saw that I’d been sick,” Bettina tells This Is MedTech. “I cleaned myself up, jumped in my car and drove home, even though people on the train, my colleague and the ticket collector suggested they call for an ambulance. The next day I saw my doctor, who put me on medication for high blood pressure, and the day after that I was back at work.”
It wasn’t until Bettina was involved in a campaign by the British Heart Foundation (BHF) some years later that the seriousness of her condition really hit home. “I’d never linked the heart and blood pressure together,” explains the Jamaican-born grandmother. “A lot of people don’t make the connection between high blood pressure and the increased risk of heart disease, diabetes and stroke.”
Looking back, Bettina realised that there were some early warning signs that her blood pressure should have been checked. First, there was a strong family history of high blood pressure (hypertension). She later found out that because of this, she should have been checked on a regular basis much earlier in her life. Second, she’d been experiencing severe headaches for years. These factors, combined with her love of traditional African Caribbean cooking and limited physical activity, didn’t bode well for her heart.
“I had to revisit my diet and I wasn’t exercising much,” says Bettina. Once she started to make lifestyle changes and got her blood pressure under control, she felt it was her duty to educate others, particularly in the African Caribbean community. “I was part of a group set up by the BHF called Love Hearts, which went into communities to talk about healthy cooking,” she says. “There is a lot of salt and fat used in African Caribbean recipes. We showed people how to make healthy substitutions, like using lots of herbs rather than salt.”
Indeed, high dietary salt is a major global health risk that’s linked to premature death. “I take it really seriously. Even when I go out to restaurants, I always say that I cannot have anything with salt in it. It takes a bit of commitment but you do the best you can. Now a container of salt lasts me years. I only buy it in case we get snow and ice,” jokes Bettina.
She firmly believes that people must take responsibility for their own health. For her, this includes blood pressure monitoring at home. “If my head starts to hurt, I know I need to check my blood pressure,” she says, adding that she’d like to see more education for patients on how to take their blood pressure and understand the results. Having control over her blood pressure means that Bettina can spend her time the way she wants to, whether that’s hanging out with her grandchildren or volunteering for various charities.
With ten million lives lost each year due to raised blood pressure, it’s no surprise that the theme for this year’s World Hypertension Day on 17th May is “Know Your Numbers”. This month also marks the second ever “May Measurement Month”, a global awareness campaign that puts the spotlight on increasing access to blood pressure screening.
As Bettina says: “We can’t just rest on our laurels. We have to educate, educate, educate.”