While hypertension is becoming less common around the world, numbers seem to be rising in South Africa, surprisingly among the youth
Dr Lebo Gafane-Matemane, a senior lecturer at HART (Hypertension in Africa Research Team) bases at North-West University, says increasing obesity numbers among the youth as well as other lifestyle pitfalls could be contributing to increased cases of hypertension.
What is hypertension?
Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. People suffering from hypertension are at increased risk of cardiovascular disease.
According to Mayo Clinic, blood pressure is the force with which your heart pumps through your body exerting pressure on your blood vessels.
Common factors that can increase your risk of developing high blood pressure include stress, a diet high in salt, fat, and cholesterol and chronic conditions such as kidney and hormone problems, diabetes, and high cholesterol.
Why young people are getting an ‘old people’s disease’
Although hypertension does not necessarily affect people according to their age, it is commonly known as a condition that mainly affects older people.
Prof Carina Mels, director of HART, says hypertension is more common in older people as a result of the ageing process of the cardiovascular system.
“When you are young, your aorta is still elastic, and the pulse wave takes longer to travel through the arterial tree. As you age, the aorta and other arteries in the body lose their elastic properties. This happens as the result of a build-up of collagen in the wall of the arteries and is known as arterial stiffness. In a stiff arterial tree, the pulse wave travels much faster, which has a negative impact on your heart,” she explains.
Although the process of ageing starts at birth, certain lifestyle choices could expedite the process leading to hypertension at an earlier age.
HART’s African-PREDICT study found that a high percentage of young adults demonstrated cardiovascular risk factors, namely being overweight or obese, following an unhealthy diet, having a high salt intake and low intake of fruit and vegetables, smoking and alcohol abuse.
What to do about hypertension
Hypertension is known as the “silent killer” because many people don’t even know they have contracted it.
Prof Ruan Kruger from the SARChI Research Chair in the Early Detection and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Africa at the NWU says the risk of having a heart attack or stroke starts when people are still at school, and that high blood pressure can even occur at infancy.
“To keep our heart and blood vessels healthy, we should limit sweets, cookies, cake, sugary drinks and salty snacks. Instead, we can eat more fresh vegetables and meat with little fat.
“You can be in control of your health and make choices about what you eat from a very young age.”
He says teachers also have the responsibility of promoting healthy living by discouraging alcohol abuse, smoking and unhealthy food intake.
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