High blood pressure can be deadly

More than 10 million South Africans are affected by chronic high blood pressure, known as hypertension. It is responsible for approximately 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes in South Africa every day. However, most hypertension patients don’t even know that they have the disease.

“Contrary to the notion that hypertension is a disease of the affluent, it is actually more common among the poor, and the incidence is much higher in low- and middle-income countries than high-income countries,” said Dr Ahmed Abulfathi, from Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, ahead of World Hypertension Day marked on May 17. The theme for this year is “Know Your Numbers”.

Despite its serious outcomes, such as heart attack, stroke and kidney failure, hypertension generally shows no symptoms, earning itself the title as a “silent killer”. According to a recent report, only 27 percent of hypertensive patients in sub-Saharan Africa were aware that they had hypertension, and only 18 percent were receiving treatment for it.

What causes high blood pressure?

“In most cases hypertension is caused by an interplay between genetic and environmental factors, such as excess weight, a sedentary lifestyle, smoking, harmful use of alcohol, an unhealthy diet, and persistent exposure to stress,” Abulfathi explained.

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Hypertension can be significantly controlled by adopting a healthy lifestyle, which includes regular exercise, avoiding smoking and alcohol, and following a healthy diet. Regular blood pressure checks can allow for early detection and intervention to avoid complications.

How to prevent and control high blood pressure

“To prevent hypertension, it is recommended that, on average, all adults consume a diet that achieves the recommended intake of sodium (salt) – which for most individuals requires a substantial reduction of salt intake,” said Irene Labuschagne, a dietician at Stellenbosch University’s Nutrition Information Centre (NICUS).

“Other key dietary lifestyle approaches include increased fruit and vegetable intake, increased low fat dairy intake, to obtain and maintain a healthy body weight, weight loss if overweight, daily physical activity and moderate to low alcohol consumption,” said Labuschagne.

NICUS recommends following this dietary checklist for a healthy blood pressure:

  • Eat at least six to eight servings of vegetables and fruit each day
  • Eat natural, unprocessed and homemade foods more often
  • Choose lower sodium, high-fibre cereals, breads, bakery products and snacks
  • Choose two to three servings of low-fat milk products or alternatives each day
  • Use less salt at the table and in cooking and baking
  • Cut back on the amount of sauces and dressings added to food
  • Choose low-fat, high-fibre, lower sodium snack foods
  • Avoid processed meat such as polony and deli meat – have leftover cooked meat or chicken instead
  • Check food labels and buy lower sodium foods
  • Eat more beans, peas and lentils
  • Eat a handful of raw unsalted nuts or seeds several times each week.
  • Eat fewer take-away meals
  • Watch portion sizes and eat slowly

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