A few weeks ago, a former boss and good friend uploaded the picture of a beautiful woman on his BBM profile, tagging it “RIP”. After extending my condolences, I couldn’t help but ask what happened to such a good looking woman, who was apparently his sister-in-law (she was his brother’s wife’s sister). I was shocked to hear she had died a few days after giving birth to her 4th child. Cause of death? Elevated blood pressure.
Just a few short months before, a friend’s older sister had developed gestational hypertension, and before they knew what was happening, she died when she was about 28 weeks pregnant, along with the baby she was carrying.
The other day, as I was scrolling through Facebook, there was a post on one of my favourite groups Female In Nigeria, about a beautiful young lady who had just died as a result of gestational hypertension. This time, I had to ask myself what on earth is going on!!!
But as upset as I was about all these blood pressure related deaths, it wasn’t too far away from home for me. Even though I had text-book blood pressure all through my pregnancy (it never went above the 120s/70s range), when I returned to the hospital for my post-natal appointment, a week after having the girls, I was shocked when I was told it was 160/100. Osi gini? Who had that kind of blood pressure?! Not me oh! But alas, it was me. A second reading showed the first one hadn’t been a fluke. Getting home, I became obsessed with checking my blood pressure, almost on an hourly basis…and like play, like play, I too was now struggling with BP wahala. I too was now swallowing BP medicine. I coudnt believe it was me, and I lamented to anyone who cared to listen, complaining about how high BP had appeared from nowhere to add to my wahala. As if I didn’t have enough stress as a new mom of 2 kids!
If only I had known how merciful God had been to me! At that time, I didn’t know enough to realise the condition I had could have been much worse. It could have been fatal, as it has been for a lot of other women. At least, after a few months, my BP stabilized and life returned to normal for me. If only those other women had the same opportunity.
Blood pressure was always something I took for granted, even though I really shouldn’t have. My father had a mild stroke at the age of 49, which he thankfully recovered from. My mother, on the other hand, had perfect blood pressure for the longest time, and I just reckoned I got my mine from her side of the family. This was until her blood pressure suddenly spiked at the beginning of last year, and while we were still managing it with drugs and the like, she suffered a surprise mild stroke in September of the same year. That completely made me shift my paradigm on the matter. It made me start taking blood pressure more seriously; not only for my husband and I, but for our parents, siblings, and everyone around us.
One of my closest cousins (in fact, we are so close, I consider her my younger sister), has been TTC for about 5 years. She has PCOS, and is prepping to go the IVF route soon. About two years ago, she told me she had been advised to take a few weeks off work, as her BP had gone high. How high is high? Try 180/110 kinda high! My cousin is a workaholic, so my first instinct was to yell about how this her work was getting too stressful ooooh, and how they should take it easy with her oooooh. I was quite surprised when she told me she didn’t think it was because of work, but because she had been thinking too much. She was approaching her 4th anniversary at the time, and was getting more and more anxious about not having kids. Her answer brought tears to my eyes, and pleaded with her to take it easy, giving myself as an example she could see with her very eyes. Even though she wasn’t yet married when I was on my own TTC journey, she was extremely supportive, and I would often find myself calling to cry on her shoulder, despite the 4-year age difference we have. She was always full of encouraging words and was there to rejoice with me when I finally got pregnant. I couldn’t even attend her wedding in Abuja, as it happened in my precarious 1st trimester, when bleeding was the order of the day for me, and I couldn’t take any chances. I just wanted to make her realise that she would one day get her own happy ending, and that it wasn’t worth it worrying herself to death…literally.
As Africans, we are genetically more predisposed to blood pressure issues than our Caucasian counterparts. Add to that the stressful environment we live in, we are already contending with so many triggers on pretty much a daily basis. Adding pregnancy, post-partum and TTC related issues to that just boxes us women into an already tight corner.
How then can we handle it?
For gestational hypertension, or the more serious preeclampsia, a good place to start would be to be aware of the risk factors…the triggers. Women older than 40, or younger than 20, have a higher risk of developing hypertension during pregnancy. Other risk factors include being overweight, not exercising, eating poorly, carrying multiple children, dealing with chronic diseases like diabetes or lupus, having high blood pressure before pregnancy, and having had preeclampsia or hypertension during previous pregnancies. If any of these describe us, it is a good idea to start taking the necessary precautions. It is also wise to know your blood pressure level before getting, not go overboard with salt, try to get exercise, be mindful of medication (to make sure you aren’t taking medication that can raise blood pressure levels), get regular prenatal checkups and, of course, not to smoke or drink alcohol. These might sound very basic, but adhering to them could just save your life.
For TTC-related hypertension, what can I tell you. If you weren’t disposed to it before now, the most common culprit could be stress. Trust me when I say I know how annoying and patronizing that sounds. Of course TTC is stressful! How is anyone supposed to expect you not to be stressed? But it’s almost like a circular reference, because if your blood pressure is elevated as a result of this stress, conception might take that much longer, and any resulting pregnancy could be compromised. Other TTC-related hypertension triggers could be the weight gain that accompanies hormonal disorders, or even some medication we might be on. As TTC women, and men, we have to be extra vigilant and mindful of these things.
But for everyone, TTC or not, I leave you with some measures I found online, which could help greatly, when it comes to managing our blood pressure, and general health and well being:
- Maintain a healthy weight: Weight management is crucial when it comes to hypertension prevention
- Eat a balanced diet. Get plenty of fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in potassium, and limit your intake of excess calories, fat, and sugar.
- Reduce salt. According to Gbenga Ogedegbe, a clinical hypertension specialist, Director of the Center for Healthful Behavior Change, and Associate Professor of Medicine for the Division of General Internal Medicine at New York University School of Medicine in New York City, “The higher the sodium intake, the higher the blood pressure.” You can cut back on your total salt intake by avoiding high-sodium packaged and processed foods and not adding extra salt to your meals.
- Regular exercise. “Physical activity is crucial,” says Dr. Ogedegbe. The more exercise you get, the better, but even a little bit can help control blood pressure.
- Limit the alcohol. Drinking too much alcohol can lead to high blood pressure. For women, that means no more than one drink a day, and for men, no more than.
- Monitor your blood pressure. This should be done regularly, either at your doctor’s office or at home. High blood pressure often occurs with no symptoms, so only blood pressure readings will tell you if your blood pressure is on the rise.
Good luck everyone. God speed to us all!
With references from: