The Star Late Edition

Getting hypertensi­on under control

- DR YOGAN PILLAY, DR KIBACHIO JOSEPH MWANGI and SANDHYA SINGH Pillay is country director for CHAI-SA, Mwangi, head of non-communicab­le diseases at WHO SA and Singh is director for non-communicab­le disease at the national Health Department

MAY 17 is World Hypertensi­on Day. The theme this year is “Measure your blood pressure, control it, live longer”.

About half of all South Africans have elevated blood pressure, and this trend has increased over the past few decades.

The SA Demographi­c and Health Survey conducted in 2016 and published in 2019 reported that between 1998 and 2016 the prevalence of hypertensi­on rose from 25% to 46% in women, and from 23% to 44% in men.

The prevalence of hypertensi­on rises steadily with increasing age, peaking at 84 among women and men 65 and older.

Twenty-nine percent of women and 34% of men with hypertensi­on were never told by their health provider that they suffered from it.

Equally concerning, in 2016 only 20% of women and 13% of men with hypertensi­on were controlled. Hypertensi­on has no boundaries; it affects all our communitie­s, and recently we observed people with hypertensi­on who were infected with Covid-19 experience­d serious illness and death.

Younger people are presenting with the condition, which appears to be linked to escalating weight gain and obesity. Of major concern is that many people in South Africa with elevated blood pressure do not know that they have it, and even when people are diagnosed and put on treatment they are not controlled.

It is critical that South Africans have access and opportunit­ies to measure their blood pressure and take action when it is elevated, as this may save lives.

Hypertensi­on is associated with a number of conditions, disability and causes of death. These include stokes; myocardial infarction; endstage renal disease; congestive heart failure; peripheral vascular disease and blindness. According to Stats SA, in 2017, hypertensi­ve disorders resulted in 19 900 deaths with a further 44 357 deaths associated with cerebrovas­cular diseases and other heart diseases.

This means about 30% of all deaths in 2017 were associated with increased blood pressure. What can be done to prevent and control hypertensi­on? Eating healthy meals (low in refined sugars, salt and saturated oils and high in fruits and vegetables), being physically active (at least 150 to 300 minutes of moderate-intensity aerobic physical activity or at least 75 to 150 minutes of vigorous-intensity aerobic physical activity, or an equivalent combinatio­n of moderate and vigorous-intensity activity a week in adults), not smoking, avoiding excessive alcohol intake and getting blood pressure measured regularly. South Africans have far too much salt in their diet. The SA Demographi­c and Health survey found that daily, 10% eat fried foods, 2% eat fast food, 13% eat salty snacks and 14% consume processed meats.

When asked if there was an intention to reduce salt intake, 32% said that they were not interested and 48% indicated that they had started reducing their salt intake.

Reducing salt intake is important as the World Health Organizati­on (WHO) recently reported that 2.5 million deaths could be prevented if globally recommende­d levels of salt were implemente­d. The current global intake of salt is twice the WHO recommenda­tion of no more than 5g (one teaspoon) of salt per person a day.

The message for World Hypertensi­on Day has to be: focus on the five key approaches to prevent hypertensi­on, and measure your blood pressure regularly.

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