Hypertension – the silent killer

High blood pressure often goes undetected because of a lack of symptoms, but it is responsible for 50 percent of strokes. Prevention is better than cure and with these tips it can be avoided.

High blood pressure or hypertension is a disease that’s common around the world and especially so among South Africans. The country currently has the highest rate of high blood pressure ever reported among people aged 50 and older, with almost eight out of ten people in this age group diagnosed with it.

More than 6,2 million South Africans have blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg. More than 3,2 million have blood pressure readings higher than 160/95 mm Hg – a level that is unacceptably high. A normal blood pressure reading should be between 90/60 mm Hg and 120/
80 mm Hg.

An estimated 53 men and 78 women die in South Africa each day from the impact of hypertension. A major problem is that, more often than not, it has no symptoms, meaning that many people suffer from it without realising it; hence the name “the silent killer”.

Although, undiagnosed and therefore untreated high blood pressure does not initially cause problems, the long-term effects affect almost all the organs of the body – from cardiovascular disease and strokes to kidney problems, heart failure and visual difficulties.

Hypertension is one of the leading risk factors for cardiovascular disease and stroke in South Africa. Hypertension is responsible for 50 percent of strokes and 42 percent of heart attacks. Because it develops slowly, causes no symptoms and can remain undetected, everyone should be screened regularly.

It’s not a disease of old age; it can develop at any age. Although it can occur in isolation, it’s often associated with other diseases such as diabetes.

There is no cure. The condition needs to be managed with lifestyle changes. If a patient fails to normalise their blood pressure, then medication and long-term treatment should be considered so as to keep blood pressure steady and reduce the risk of complications.

If you are diagnosed with hypertension, depending on how elevated the readings are, initial treatment should start with lifestyle changes, including weight loss, exercise, reducing or completely quitting smoking, avoiding excessive alcohol intake, and reducing salt intake.

This regimen also means avoiding processed and fast foods, as they contain excessively high amounts of salt, which aggravates hypertension. Should these measures fail to reduce blood pressure, medication should be commenced and continued – for life.


Dr Ed Baalbergen is the medical officer at the Vincent Pallotti Rehabilitation Centre (Cape Town) and is a member of the International Spinal Cord Society and the Southern African Neurological Rehabilitation Association. email: ed.baalbergen@lifehealthcare.co.za

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