South Africa’s high rate of heart attacks and strokes is largely a result of poorly managed high blood pressure – medically termed hypertension. According to the SA Hypertension Society, half of South Africans living with hypertension don’t even know they have it. We commemorate World Hypertension Day on 17 May 2023, and it is important to remember to monitor your blood pressure and take steps to manage hypertension.
In Mzansi, roughly 30% of the adult population suffers from hypertension, which is likely to increase, if left untreated.
Ryan Snodgrass, CVS1 Product Manager at Pharma Dynamics, says not knowing your status can be harmful as it may inadvertently prevent people from seeking care when they need to.
Hypertension is responsible for around 50% of all heart disease and stroke cases globally, according to the World Health Organisation.
“It is a silent killer, and many people, about 46%, do not realise they have it until it’s too late,” says Lizeth Kruger, Dis-Chem Baby City clinic executive.
It is also a grave concern for pregnant women who are a high-risk group as hypertension accounts for almost 15 % of maternal deaths in South Africa.
Did you know?
This year’s theme for World Hypertension Day is “Measure your blood pressure accurately, control it, live longer!”.
Kruger shares seven must-know facts below to help you understand the risks and make informed decisions to maintain a healthy heart.
- Did you know that hypertension can damage your arteries and increase your risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems? Pregnant women are at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.
- Did you know that hypertension can be asymptomatic meaning most people with hypertension do not experience any symptoms, which is why it is often called the “silent killer”? Regular blood pressure checks are important to identify hypertension early on.
- Did you know that hypertension during pregnancy can also affect the baby’s health? It can lead to low birth weight, premature birth, and in other cases maternal death. Proper management of gestational hypertension is crucial for both the mother’s and the baby’s health.
- Did you know that certain factors can increase the risk of high blood pressure during pregnancy, including obesity, diabetes, and a history of hypertension? Pregnant women with these risk factors should take extra precautions and seek medical advice to manage their blood pressure during pregnancy.
- Did you know that simple lifestyle changes can help manage high blood pressure? A healthy diet, regular exercise, reducing alcohol intake, and quitting smoking can all help lower blood pressure and reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease.
- Did you know that hypertension can be hereditary? If your parents or siblings have hypertension, you may be at a higher risk of developing it as well. Regular blood pressure checks are important for individuals with a family history of hypertension.
- Did you know that hypertension affects more than one billion people worldwide? According to the World Health Organisation, hypertension is a global health issue that affects around one in four adults. World Hypertension Day is an opportunity to raise awareness of the condition and promote healthy lifestyle choices to reduce the burden of hypertension.
Know your numbers
Many also don’t know what a normal or healthy reading should be.
Snodgrass explains: “Blood pressure is reported with two numbers. The top figure is your systolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in your arteries when the heart beats. The bottom number is your diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in your arteries, while your heart is resting between heartbeats. When your blood pressure is too high, your heart has to work harder to pump the blood through your body. This places tremendous strain on the heart, which could eventually lead to heart failure.”
He says to lower your risk of a heart attack or stroke, it’s critical to understand numbers.
“Normal blood pressure is measured at or under 120 systolic over 80 diastolic.
High bordering on dangerous
“If your reading is 120 to 129 systolic and less than 80 diastolic, your blood pressure is elevated. And if you fall into this category, you are likely to develop hypertension and need to start making certain lifestyle changes to keep your blood pressure in check.
“If your reading is consistently at or above 130 over 80, you have hypertension.
“A hypertensive crisis occurs when your reading is above 180 over 120. Blood pressure this high can damage your blood vessels and lead to a stroke, therefore immediate medical attention is required to stabilise your blood pressure.
“Staying up to date with your screenings is the best way to identify elevated levels when there’s still time to treat it,” urges Snodgrass.
Get your health in hand
Here’s what you can do to ensure healthy blood pressure:
- Follow the Cooking from the Heart DASH diet plan. Endorsed by The Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, this healthy eating plan is designed to prevent and treat hypertension. The diet includes food that is rich in potassium, calcium and magnesium and limits food that is high in saturated fat and sugars. Hundreds of heart-healthy recipes are available at My Dynamics.
- Reduce your salt intake to under one teaspoon a day. Too much sodium increases your blood pressure.
- Limit alcohol use. Drinking alcohol increases your blood pressure, therefore try to stick to the recommended limits if you find it hard to abstain.
- Exercise regularly (daily if you can) for at least 30 minutes at a time.
- Maintain a healthy weight. Being overweight or obese increases your risk of cardiovascular disease and other metabolic conditions.
- Quit smoking or vaping. Both can harm your heart and blood vessels, contributing to hypertension.
- Find healthy ways to manage your stress.
- Monitor your blood pressure at home with a validated cuff-style monitor that goes on your upper arm.
- Consult your doctor about your blood pressure, who will be able to advise the best strategy for you.
- Take medicine as prescribed, while also following a healthy lifestyle.
Being proactive about your health and knowing your blood pressure numbers can save your life.
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