One in three South Africans live with hypertension, also known as high blood pressure (BP), and it is responsible for one in every two strokes and two in five heart attacks.
"South Africa has seen an exponential growth in hypertension or high BP over the past 20 years," said Professor Bryan Rayner, nephrologist and director of the Hypertension Institute at the University of Cape Town. He was drawing attention to World Hypertension Day, which is being marked today.
In a sense we are facing a national health emergency...
In 2017, an estimated 42 to 54 percent of people in South Africa were suffering from hypertension. Moreover, hypertension is 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.
"In a sense we are facing a national health emergency," Professor Rayner said, "but because the links between high BP and death, heart disease and stroke are indirect, public awareness is poor."
World Hypertension Day 2018
Prevalence of hypertension: 42%- 54%%.
South Africa has the highest prevalence of hypertension+largest number of people whose blood pressure is still not controlled-> NCD´s need to be prioritized+managed to reduce the public health burden pic.twitter.com/x1EXTZmmv9— Lutz Hennings (@LutzHennings) May 15, 2018
A study by Wits University scientists and peers 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 still not controlled, even on treatment.
Risk factors and lack of awareness
"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," pointed out 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."
For men, only 40 percent were aware of their hypertension condition. For women, the picture was better, with 54 percent being aware of their hypertension condition.
According to Dr Stuart Ali, project manager and researcher at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience at Wits University: "For men, only 40 percent were aware of their hypertension condition. Of those who knew and were being treated, only 39 percent had controlled blood pressure. For women, the picture was better, with 54 percent being aware of their hypertension condition, and of those undergoing treatment, 51 percent had controlled blood pressure."
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.
"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," emphasised 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."
Ultimately, it's best to have a blood pressure test, as this is the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high. Screening lets you know where you stand and allows you to manage your blood pressure to reduce the risk of a cardiovascular event. Plus, having a blood pressure check is quick, simple and non-invasive.