Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, affects one in three South Africans. It kills 10 million people every year. And the scariest part? You probably won’t even know you’re at risk.
Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because there are rarely any symptoms. In fact, only half of those who suffer from high pressure know it. The only way to know if you suffer from high blood pressure is to have it checked regularly. This test is a quick, easy process – and it can be life-saving.
“I’m An Active 45-Year-Old, But I Have Hypertension”
This woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, had recently lost 10kg, completed her first half marathon and generally seemed to be in peak health. But what’s that saying our parents drilled into us as kids? Don’t judge a book by its cover. Although she felt completely normal, on the inside things weren’t as they should be.
“I’d just trained at the gym and decided to have my blood pressure checked as there was a nurse on site,” she says. Her blood pressure was higher than normal, but her trainer suggested that this was due to the workout she’d just completed.
“A few weeks later I had another check – it was even higher,” she says. “And when I did a third test, it was an astonishingly high 190/120. Readings above 180/110 indicate that you’re in hypertensive crisis,” she explains. “My health was at risk.”
She was advised to see a specialist and began the treatment for hypertension. “I went to my physician, who put me on two types of medication,” she says. After a few months, to much relief, her blood pressure had returned to a normal, healthy level. “I haven’t experienced any side-effects [but] I will have to take the medication for the rest of my life.”
A Serious Wake-Up Call
“I was really scared by how high my blood pressure was when I was so active, and I was scared that I could have had a heart attack or stroke at any moment,” she says. “I felt completely normal.” As a result of this scare, the whole family has greatly reduced their carb and sugar intake.
“It’s important to talk to your children and educate them about a healthy lifestyle and what they eat,” she adds. “Hypertension is a silent killer and I was nearly a statistic.”
What The Experts Say
Professor Brian Rayner is head of the Nephrology and Hypertension Division at Groote Schuur Hospital. After hearing how real the risk of hypertension is, I turned to him for some advice.
Firstly I wanted to know whether there was a link between South Africa’s high obesity rate and the high hypertension statistics. “Undoubtedly,” Rayner begins, “but remember that thin people can get hypertension as well.” This woman was the perfect example. Hypertension can happen to anyone.
Diet is important. “[A person suffering from hypertension] should be eating fresh fruit and vegetables, avoid sugar and salt (processed foods) and reduce saturated fat,” says Rayner. “Reduce alcohol to one to two drinks per day, if you smoke – stop, and try to lose weight by reducing overall food consumption.”
Exercise is another good habit to take up, or keep up. “Walk for 30 to 45 minutes most days of the week,” Rayner advises.
“There is no cure [for hypertension], but a normal life can be maintained with the right medication,” he says. His advice for all South Africans is to maintain a healthy lifestyle, starting with our children. “You should be the role model.”
May Measurement Month
The month of May is all about creating hypertension awareness. May Measurement Month (MMM) is a global awareness campaign created by the International Society of Hypertension. Regular blood pressure tests are vital as this is the only way to know if you are at risk. To find out more about this campaign and where you can get your blood pressure checked, click here.