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Hypertension: The silent killer

Written by Government Employee Medical Scheme

Most people who suffer from hypertension often do not know that they have the condition.

Hypertension, which affects more than one in three adults worldwide, is commonly known as high blood pressure and causes nearly 50 per cent of all deaths from stroke and heart disease, according to the World Health Organization.

“High blood pressure is when the blood pressure in your arteries is persistently elevated. It is a very common condition… It is not only tense, stressed out people who suffer from it,” says Dr Stan Moloabi, Executive: Healthcare Management at the Government Employees Medical Scheme (GEMS).

“People may have hypertension for years without knowing it, which is why it can be so dangerous.”

World Hypertension Day is commemorated on the 17 May and health organisations and governments around the world use the day to create awareness.

The condition can also be responsible for cases of kidney failure, eye disease and dementia.

Blood: The life force behind your beating heart
Every time your heart beats, explains Dr Moloabi, blood is pumped into your body through the arteries. Blood pressure is the force of blood pushing up against the artery walls.

“This force is important as your blood has to deliver oxygen and nutrients throughout your body. However, if the pressure is high, then the heart has to pump harder, which can damage your blood vessels and cause health problems.”

Many factors can affect blood pressure.

“You have a higher risk of hypertension if you are older, as your blood vessels become stiffer as you age, and if you have a family history of high blood pressure.

“However, although you cannot do anything about these two factors, there are lifestyle causes that can definitely be controlled. These include aspects such as your weight, your eating and smoking habits and your alcohol and salt consumption.”

Know your numbers
Dr Moloabi stresses the importance of a blood pressure test.

“You should visit your family practitioner every one to two years for a blood pressure test, so that you can ensure your blood pressure is within the normal range, which is 120 over 80.”

However, Dr Moloabi advises that if you have diabetes, heart disease, kidney problems or if your previous blood pressure reading was higher than 120 over 80, then you must have your blood pressure checked at least once a year.

How to treat and prevent hypertension
Although there is treatment for hypertension, simple lifestyle changes can help you stop hypertension:

  • Minimise your salt/sodium intake
  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat healthy meals
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Do not drink too much alcohol
  • Do not smoke
  • Lower your stress levels.