Hearing this diagnosis felt so surreal: I could not believe that as young as I was, I had hypertension.

On November 11, 2020 I was torn awake at 5am by sudden chest pains, which felt like I was being shocked. Thinking the pains would not need medical attention, I tried to go back to sleep; but the pains got worse.

They got to a point where I experienced difficulty breathing. I quickly got out of bed and sat on a chair near my study desk. My body started shaking and I felt cold.

Confused by what was happening, I decided to visit the local clinic. I got there at 7am and a nurse checked my blood sugar levels, heart rate and blood pressure. My blood pressure was 160 over 98, indicative of secondary hypertension, which is the second stage of hypertension caused by thyroid issues. A normal pressure would have been 120 over 80.

A doctor examined me to make sure I was not suffering the symptoms of a heart attack, and found I was not. Considering that hypertension is a health condition most common in middle-aged and older people, she asked me if there was anything stressing me that could account for my blood pressure being so high. I was finding it difficult to deal with my parents’ separation and I was having exam anxiety, since I was writing my undergraduate finals. Those were the only things I could think of.

The doctor then took my blood sample for testing to see what could account for my blood pressure being so high, and she gave me a prescription for chest pain and to help lower my blood pressure.

I went back to the clinic on December 10, 2020 for an analysis of my results. The doctor told me they were fine. It was essential, however, that I continue taking my medication because high blood pressure puts one at risk of a heart attack or stroke.

I was diagnosed with hypertension on March 4, 2021 when I went for my second blood pressure review. It remained high and the doctor decided to change my prescription to medication intended to lower blood pressure.

I found it challenging to accept I was on hypertension pills, especially as I was 21. I was in denial of being hypertensive and asked myself the question, why me?

My parents questioned how being hypertensive at such a young age was possible. My dad said, “I don’t believe you are hypertensive. The blood pressure machine could be faulty: When they use it on you it gives off a wrong blood pressure reading, and doctors will tell you that you need to take medication.”

I started exercising to lose some weight and cut out eating unhealthy food. The transition was not easy, but it needed to happen for me to maintain a healthy blood pressure. On my fourth visit to the clinic, on March 4, the blood pressure reading showed my efforts were making a difference: It had decreased to 137 over 43, and the doctor advised me to not let it reach 140.

It took a while for me to adjust to having to take pills every day. I wondered if the pills would work, given that being a student often comes with the pressure of meeting deadlines and being inundated with school work. This can contribute to stress, thus affecting my efforts to lower my blood pressure.

This unfortunate diagnosis taught me that I need to make good health choices all the time, not wait until I feel unwell to do so. Sometimes the damage will already be done and I might not get the opportunity to change unhealthy eating habits.

FEATURED IMAGE: Tshepiso Ntombela Photo: File


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