SA’s blood pressure rate is rising
Today is World Hypertension Day, which aims to raise awareness about the ‘silent killer’
SOUTH Africa has seen an exponential growth in hypertension or high blood pressure (BP) over the past 20 years.
This is according to Professor Bryan Rayner, nephrologist and director of the Hypertension Institute at the University of Cape Town.
“In a sense we are facing a national health emergency, but because the links between high BP and death, heart disease and stroke are indirect, public awareness is poor,” Rayner says.
His comments come as today marks World Hypertension Day which seeks to raise awareness about the “silent killer”.
“Risk factors for hypertension are a family history of hypertension, diabetes or stroke, obesity, African ethnicity, sedentary lifestyle, diabetes, high BP in pregnancy, and a poor diet with excess alcohol, sugar and salt,” says Rayner.
“High BP generally causes
no symptoms before it strikes unexpectedly. But the very good news is that medication, combined with a healthy lifestyle, can prevent complications.”
In 2017, an estimated 42% to 54% of people were suffering from hypertension in South Africa and this figure is expected to increase.
Hypertension is also the leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Other complications can include heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, renal impairment, retinal haemorrhage and visual impairment.
Hypertension is the leading cause of mortality, with an estimated 1.2 billion sufferers globally. In South Africa, more than 1 in 3 adults live with high blood pressure and it is responsible for one in every two strokes and two in every five heart attacks.
A study by Wits University scientists and peers has revealed that South Africa also has the highest prevalence of hypertension in southern Africa, as well as the largest number of people whose blood pressure is not controlled, even while on treatment.
According to Dr Stuart Ali, project manager and researcher at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience at Wits University, people may be completely unaware that they have hypertension.
“For men, only 40% were aware of their hypertension condition. Of those who knew and were being treated, only 39% had controlled blood pressure. For women, the picture was better with 54% being aware of their hypertension condition, and of those undergoing treatment, 51% had controlled blood pressure.
“No one is immune to hypertension – black or white, male or female, rich or poor, old or young, overweight or thin, fit or unfit – and it is essential that everyone has their BP screened regularly especially if you have risk factors for hypertension,” says Rayner. “If your BP is greater than 140/90, further evaluation is required by a health professional. If your BP is between 130-140/80-90, implement lifestyle changes as you are at risk for hypertension.”
A blood pressure test is the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high. In light of these facts, and in collaboration with the May Measurement Month (MMM) campaign run by the International Society of Hypertension (ISH), pharmaceutical group Servier is launching #BecauseIsayso – a new worldwide campaign to raise public awareness about the importance of regular blood pressure screening.
In South Africa, the Southern African Hypertension Society (SAHS), linked to the ISH screening initiative, will be running screening days and raising awareness of hypertension in May.
One of those who was unaware of his condition was 28-year-old Nhlanhla Phillips who was diagnosed in 2010.
“I went to the doctor because there was something wrong with my heart. They found that my heart was fine but my blood pressure was very high. I was then put on chronic treatment.”
Phillips admits it has been hard making lifestyle changes like exercising, reducing his drinking and bad eating habits. “I have not had heart problems since I’ve been on the medication. I try to control my stress levels because that shoots it up,” Phillips.
Soweto nurse Tlalane Ndlala’s family had a long history of hypertension.
But Ndlala only realised she had the condition when she fell pregnant. “When I was 22 and pregnant, I went for antenatal classes and it was found I had high blood pressure. It was monitored and I was placed on treatment,” she said.
While Ndlala has managed to live well with the condition for over three decades, this has not been the case for some of her relatives.
“There is a history of high blood pressure in my family and one of my brothers had a stroke because of it. He cannot walk, he cannot talk or do anything for himself. My other brother died in 2016 because the condition led to kidney failure. He was on dialysis but that didn’t help. Before my brother died, my mother also died of kidney failure which was a side-effect of high blood pressure,” Ndlala said.
Being acutely aware of what hypertension can lead to, she has always been diligent about caring for her health. “I manage my health with pills. I also eat a low sodium diet and take walks,” she said.
TODAY is World Hypertension Day, an excellent opportunity to raise awareness about a most serious health challenge which has grown enormously in this country.
Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure (BP), is the leading risk factor for heart attacks and strokes. The Heart and Stroke Foundation SA says an estimated 11 million South Africans live with it.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is responsible for 65% of kidney disease in South Africa, which in turn increases the risk of heart disease five to eight-fold.
One in three South Africans 15 years and older have hypertension. A frightening fact is that a large portion of the population have no idea they have high blood pressure. As one expert puts it, it generally causes no symptoms and strikes unexpectedly.
Worldwide, around 1.8 billion people have it.
A worrying trend is the number of young people who develop it. A study involving data from 2008 from 14 000 men and women aged 24 to 32, found that of these people, 19% had high blood pressure – a reading of 140/90 or more. Researchers found that men were more likely than women to have high blood pressure – 27% of men had hypertension, 11% of women.
To keep blood pressure under control, medical authorities recommend eating a balanced and healthy diet high in fruits and vegetables. Also, reduce intake of salt to less than 2 300 milligrams a day, cut back on alcohol, and be sure to get regular exercise – at least 150 minutes of moderate to vigorous activity a week.
Hypertension has been described by Professor Bryan Rayner, director of the Hypertension Institute at the University of Cape Town, as a national health emergency.
The theme of World Hypertension Day is “Know Your Numbers”, and the heartening thing to know is that the condition is largely manageable.
It starts with regular checks, and acquainting oneself with one’s blood pressure readings.
“The very good news,” said Rayner, “is that medication, combined with a healthy lifestyle, can prevent complications.”
Get to it, then. Know your numbers.
A blood pressure test is the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high.