World Hypertension Day 2019: Know your blood pressure measure

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The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa urges all South Africans to have their blood pressure measured to find out if they are at risk, especially as 17 May is World Hypertension Day. If you do not know what your blood pressure is you may be putting yourself at risk for a heart attack or stroke, measure your pressure!

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Raised blood pressure (BP) is one of the key risk factors for cardiovascular (CVD), cerebrovascular, and renal diseases. Raised BP and hypertension are major risk factors for cardiovascular diseases, in particular, and are estimated to contribute to nearly half of all coronary heart disease (CHD) and nearly two-thirds of all stroke events. Both raised BP and hypertension are the leading preventable risk factor for overall mortality, accounting for almost 13% of deaths globally.

“Both raised BP and hypertension are the leading preventable risk factor for overall mortality, accounting for almost 13% of deaths globally.”

Selective behavioural risk factors are known to increase the risk for hypertension, which is medically defined as a blood pressure reading of less than 140/90. Nearly 50% of individuals are unaware that they have hypertension and it is therefore not uncommon for these individuals to become acutely ill from heart disease or suffer a stroke. While the risk of high BP increases with age, pregnant females are also at risk.

On the positive side, BP can be managed and controlled by taking the appropriate medication. Decreased BP is beneficial to health, overall. It is, therefore, important to take your prescribed medication regularly as failure to do so will lead to unmanaged hypertension which is dangerous to your health.

Prof. Pamela Naidoo, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), states: “Given that hypertension is treatable, it is important to know whether in fact you are at risk”. Moreover, if you have been diagnosed with hypertension, taking your medication as prescribed combined with a healthy lifestyle is essential to achieving blood pressure control to maintain your physical well-being.

Knowledge is power: Know your blood pressure measure

Blood pressure measurement is made up of two values: the systolic pressure (upper value), when the heart contracts; and diastolic pressure (lower value), when the heart relaxes between beats. Both numbers of your blood pressure reading are of equal importance. In South Africa, we currently define the optimum blood pressure measure to be 120 (systolic measure) over 80 (diastolic measure).

“One of the strategies to reduce blood pressure is to follow a healthy diet and reduce the amount of salt consumed.”

These measures are in keeping with international standards. Table 1 below shows how the risk of developing hypertension increases with age. This does not, however, mean that children and young adults are not at risk. Younger individuals should also have their BP measured at least once a year.

Table 1: Risk for developing hypertension in age progression and frequency of blood pressure measurements

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The importance of getting the correct health professional advice

The best way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have your blood pressure checked by a doctor or a health practitioner. It is vital to get the correct health professional advice when managing high BP, including whether or not you need medication.

In some cases, the doctor may recommend monitoring and recording of blood pressure measurements at home to obtain your blood pressure readings at particular times of the day or after taking medication. It is recommended that a high-quality portable blood pressure machine is used to get accurate results. You may also speak to your doctor about which machine they can recommend.

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Treatment and prevention
A critical step in preventing and treating high blood pressure is adopting a healthy lifestyle, which can go a long way towards controlling high blood pressure. Everyone should be encouraged to make lifestyle modifications such as eating a healthier diet, getting regular physical activity, maintaining a healthy weight, quitting smoking, reducing stress and limiting the quantity of alcohol intake to one drink a day.

Risk factors for raised BP and hypertension

1. Healthy Diet
One of the strategies to reduce blood pressure is to follow a healthy diet and reduce the amount of salt consumed. Excessive salt intake can have harmful effects on our health leading to hypertension. The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends limiting salt intake to no more than 5 grams per person per day, which is equivalent to 1 level teaspoon.

Yet South Africans are consuming on average 8.5g daily. Salt legislation has been implemented to limit the amount of salt in foodstuff consumed by South Africans, but individuals need to take action and responsibility to reduce the amount of salt consumed.

2. Stress
Stress is also a well-known risk factor for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease. It is considered a risk factor as much as cigarette smoking, diabetes, and hypertension for cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease onset. Being stressed often leads to other unhealthy behaviours which are often major risk factors for heart disease and stroke, such as skipping exercise, snacking on unhealthy foods, overeating and smoking or drinking alcohol excessively. Staying active, getting enough sleep and cutting bad habits like smoking can reduce stress levels.

3. Tobacco smoking
In South Africa, the prevalence of tobacco smoking is 16.5%. Tobacco use is strongly associated with increased blood pressure. Even people who smoke fewer than five cigarettes a day are at risk for early heart disease and stroke. Fortunately, the effect of tobacco use on heart health is reversible.

4. Diabetes
Uncontrolled diabetes increases the risk of cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease and stroke as long-term hyperglycaemia leads to vascular damage, hypertension and atherosclerosis. It is therefore important that individuals with diabetes monitor their blood pressure carefully. Careful management of blood glucose and blood pressure levels can reduce the risk of diabetes-related complications including cardiovascular and cerebrovascular disease.

Get your free blood pressure check

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa will be conducting free blood pressure testing in various communities across four provinces this month. Please check their Facebook page for event details and follow them: @SAHeartStroke. Alternatively, visit Dis-Chem or Clicks stores and claim from medical aid.

Also read:

Stay-at-home dads at greater risk of heart disease
The silent killer: Are you at risk?