Did you know that deaths from hypertension in Ecuador rose 51% in four years?
Cardiovascular diseases, including hypertension, are the first cause of death in Ecuador. This disease, in particular, registers an increase in deaths of 51% in four years; 1,933 hypertensive people died with this diagnosis in 2021, according to data from the Institute of Statistics and Censuses (INEC).
But the real figure would be higher. The STEPS survey of the Ministry of Public Health (MSP) concludes that 20% of the population over 19 years of age is hypertensive. There are almost 2.1 million Ecuadorians living with the disease, but not everyone knows it.
“It is estimated that 46% of hypertensive people do not know their diagnosis. And among those who do know, barely one in five is well controlled,” says Omar Medina, head of the Cardiology Service at the Luis Vernaza Hospital, of the Guayaquil Charity Board.
It is uncommon for hypertension to be associated with death, due to ease of detection and access to treatment. However, it is the gateway to fatal complications such as strokes, heart attacks and other cardiovascular diseases. This group of pathologies increased mortality by 73% between 2018 and 2021.
Hypertension, a disease on the rise
It took months to reach a diagnosis. Ana María Díaz endured intense headaches for months. “I thought it was the effect of stress, because with teleworking the routine became more demanding and extended; but it was hypertension”.
Before reaching a cardiologist, Díaz recalls that he experienced other symptoms: slight dizziness, a buzzing sensation, seeing fleeting flashes and anguish that caused severe chest pains.
“I was reading 130/90 and sometimes higher,” he recalls of a 24-hour blood pressure monitoring test. Now, at 39, she continues to be treated with medicine.
Experts agree that the pandemic triggered an increase in new cases of hypertension in the world, which will be more marked in the course of 10 years. Among the causes, the inflammatory reaction that SARS-CoV-2 generates in the body and the stress of confinement are being investigated.
Diabetes and kidney failure, associated problems
It doesn’t come alone. When hypertension is diagnosed late, it is very likely that it has triggered other pathologies such as diabetes and kidney failure.
Gabriela Torres directs the Endocrinology area at Luis Vernaza and explains that up to 80% of patients with type II diabetes have hypertension. This is because elevated blood pressure inhibits insulin production, causing a rise in glucose.
When the pressure marks 130/80 in more than two measurements and on different occasions it is a clear sign of hypertension . This continuous elevation damages and causes narrowing of the arteries.
Some of the smaller arteries supply the kidneys and therefore high blood pressure decreases kidney function. The nephrologist Wilter Ferrín adds other chain effects, such as the alteration of proteins and the elevation of sodium levels.
Prevent to stop the impact
Regular checkups and diagnostic tests are some strategies for early detection of hypertension. Vladimir Ullauri, member of the Ecuadorian Society of Cardiology , assures that this is the most effective way to find a treatment according to each type of hypertension.
There are two types of hypertension . The first essential or unknown cause is the most common, with 90% of diagnoses. Secondary hypertension can be caused by kidney, endocrine system , or heart conditions. The most frequent effect is the narrowing of the arteries that carry blood to the kidneys.
“The main thing is to have at least two check-ups a year for timely detection (…). By not having adequate treatment, the risk of a heart attack and stroke increases,” says Ullauri.
Lifestyle changes are an important step: eating a healthy diet, exercising regularly, quitting smoking, and reducing alcohol intake. Reducing salt in food and lowering the stress load are also part of prevention.
420,000 lives at risk from hypertension
Expanding and ensuring equitable access to hypertension care are measures that could save 420,000 lives a year in the Americas. The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) made this call for World Hypertension Day, which is remembered every May 17.
The agency estimates that 180 million people in the region suffer from the disease. But one of the problems that PAHO Director Jarbas Barbosa pointed out is that it often has no symptoms or signs and therefore often goes undiagnosed and untreated.
“This is serious, because undiagnosed and uncontrolled hypertension can lead to myocardial infarction, heart failure or stroke,” Barbosa said.
High blood pressure is one of the risk factors for cardiovascular disease . These are the leading cause of death in the region, with close to 2 million lives lost each year.