General health information – Timely information from TSSG

Many health problems arise silently and unknown, such as high blood pressure (hypertension), high cholesterol (atheroma), diabetes, uneven heart beat (atrial fibrillation), and weight gain. All these conditions can contribute to stroke and heart problems, particularly as we age. Although there is now more awareness of and treatment for these conditions, still we often neglect to take the simple steps to have regular checks to control or eliminate these potentially dangerous symptoms. Checks and blood tests are not time consuming or expensive, but failure to seek early detection, even when there are no obvious symptoms, can result in serious conditions with consequent misery and upset later on. Studies have shown that around 34 percent of men and 30 percent of women with high blood pressure are not being treated. Early diagnosis and treatment may prevent stroke and heart attack and other problems. There are many easy points of access to the tests and checks such as those listed below from your local general practitioner, clinic, and some farmacias.

Blood Pressure

Blood pressure is measured with two readings, firstly when the heart beats (systolic pressure) and secondly when the heart relaxes between beats (diastolic pressure). The optimal blood pressure is less than 130 (systolic) and 85 (diastolic) mmHg. If, on multiple readings, the systolic blood pressure is between 130-139, or the diastolic blood pressure is between 85 and 89, this is called pre-hypertension. High blood pressure (hypertension) are figures over these levels. High blood pressure puts a strain on blood vessels all over the body, including vital arteries to the brain, and the heart has to work much harder to keep the blood circulation going.  


Cholesterol plays an important role in a healthy body, for example, it helps us digest dietary fats, make hormones and build cell walls. However, too much is not good for us. It is estimated that two-thirds of all men and women in the UK have cholesterol higher than recommended levels. Extra cholesterol may be stored in your arteries and cause them to narrow over time due to deposits or patches on the blood vessel walls called atheroma. Patches of atheroma are like small fatty lumps, which develop on the linings of arteries, narrowing them (atherosclerosis). Large deposits can block an artery and the blood cannot flow through; if it affects an artery to the brain, a stroke can happen.  


Diabetes is a condition which occurs when the level of glucose (sugar) in the blood is too high because the body is not processing it properly. Glucose comes from the digestion of starchy and sugary foods and also from the liver, which produces glucose. The hormone insulin is produced by the pancreas which enables glucose to be broken down and used as fuel. Insulin controls the levels of glucose in the blood. There are two types of diabetes: Type 1 usually – but not always – begins in childhood or adolescence (15%) they do not produce insulin. Type 2 develops gradually in adulthood and those with this condition do not produce enough or the insulin produced does not work effectively (85%). Diabetes is not simply a problem of glucose, in the long term uncontrolled high levels of glucose in the blood stream can lead to other health problems, including serious problems with nerves, eyes, kidneys and hardening and narrowing of the artery walls leading to stroke or heart disease (atherosclerosis).  

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial Fibrillation is an irregular heartbeat, a rapid heartbeat or a quivering or the upper chambers of the heart. Atrial fibrillation is due to a malfunction of the heart´s electrical system. This condition has often been considered a minor health problem, but it can be quite risky and even potentially life threatening causing a blood clot and stroke. This condition can be managed by medication or electrical cardioversion or through anticoagulation with medication such as Warfarin (Sintrom in Spain).  

Diet and Exercise

In the last few years a great deal of research has been carried out into links between diet, exercise and health.  Studies have shown that the best way to stay fit and healthy is to eat a diet high in fruit, vegetables, whole grains and plant-based foods like beans and lentils, but low in fat, sugar and salt. “Good fats” (unsaturated) found in fish, nuts and seeds are rich in beneficial nutrients: Omega 3 and 6 found in oily fish like tuna, mackerel, herrings, salmon and sardines not only reduce the risk of atherosclerosis but are also linked to improved cholesterol levels in the body. A Mediterranean style diet, high in unsaturated fat from olive oil and fish and low in saturated fat is beneficial. Saturated fats and trans fats “bad fats” are mainly found in animal products like red meat, hard cheese and foods like sausages and meat pies, or in oils that have been hydrogenated – processed to turn liquid oils into semi-hard foods like cakes, biscuits, pastries and snacks.  Both saturated and trans fats contribute to the development of atherosclerosis and an increased risk of stroke.  

Moderate exercise (slightly out of breath) for a total of 30 minutes per day on at least 5 days a week can improve your health and help control blood pressure. It is also believed to arouse a sense of relaxation and mental health wellbeing.  

Points to aim for to improve wellbeing:    

    1. Have a regular medical examination at least once a year.
    2. Be more physically active.
    3. Lose weight if overweight.
    4. Stop smoking if you smoke.
    5. Eat a healthy balanced diet.
    6. Try to keep blood glucose levels well controlled.
    7. Try to control your blood fats.
    8. Take some time to relax.  

So at the same time as enjoying life here in Spain remember to take a little time to have a medical scrutiny thus ensuring the continuity of health and happiness in 2011.  

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