Last updated on Jan 22nd, 2021 at 12:54 pm

Get your blood pressure tested this week

With 17 May being World Hypertension Day, the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), together with the National Department of Health, challenges every person to get their blood pressure tested this week.

Why you need to know your blood pressure numbers

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is the most common chronic ailment of our generation. In fact, globally one in four adults suffer from it.

Uncontrolled blood pressure causes stroke, heart attack, heart failure, dementia, kidney failure and blindness. The World Health Organisation has rated high blood pressure as the leading risk factor for global mortality and disability.

The picture is much worse in South Africa where studies report prevalence figures between 35% and 80%, depending on age group. A study in March this year reported hypertension in 55% of participants aged between 35 and 74 years in four rural South African communities. This was the highest prevalence recorded amongst the nine lower-middle income countries studied across Asia, Latin America and Africa.

Subscribe to our Free Daily All4Women Newsletter to enter

In many ways South Africa is experiencing a perfect storm of hypertension. Our unique risk profile includes increasingly bad eating habits, decreasing levels of activity, low levels of diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, prevalent alcohol abuse, increasing obesity, malnutrition (predisposing children to chronic diseases later in life), and genetic predisposition to high blood pressure. This is well illustrated by a recent survey among students at Walter Sisulu University. Despite a mean age of only 22 years, 40% of students already had pre-hypertension, and 6% were classified as hypertensive. This highlights the fact that high blood pressure is starting at a younger age.

The impact of high blood pressure in South Africa is staggering: blood pressure is responsible for half of all strokes, 40% of heart attacks and 60% of kidney disease.

How to beat high blood pressure

An ideal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg and is easily tested with a blood pressure cuff.

In most cases high blood pressure can be effectively controlled by a combination of lifestyle changes and medication.

The problem in South Africa is that only 50% of people with hypertension know that their blood pressure is high. This is partly because there are usually no symptoms and individuals don’t have their blood pressure checked on a regular basis.

Even among people who are aware of their raised blood pressure, only some are on medication, and of those on medication not all achieve control of their high blood pressure. This means less than one quarter of people with high blood pressure are actually achieving adequate control. Uncontrolled blood pressure results in strokes, heart failure, heart attacks, and kidney failure.

“We have to address blood pressure from the top down, starting with improved diagnosis in people unknowingly suffering from this silent disease. This is what World Hypertension day is all about”, says Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, CEO of the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA.

Where to get tested for free

Two years ago the World Hypertension league aimed to test 200 000 blood pressures across the globe during the week, and succeeded. Last year this was increased to over two million people. This year the goal is to test three million blood pressures worldwide during the week of World Hypertension Day – 17 to 24 May.

The HSFSA will be hosting free blood pressure screenings and more details are available on their website.

Members of the public can also head to their doctor or pharmacy to have their blood pressure tested. For many, screening and finding out their risk is only the beginning, but it could be the step that saves their life.

References: Global Health Risks: Mortality and burden of disease attributable to selected major risks, WHO 2009Hypertension Prevalence, Awareness, Treatment, and Control in Selected LMIC CommunitiesPrevalence and associated risk factors of hypertension amongst adults in a rural community of Limpopo Province, South AfricaAssociation of waist and hip circumferences with the presence of hypertension and prehypertension in young South African adultsEstimating the burden of disease attributable to high blood pressure in South Africa in 2000

While All4Women endeavours to ensure health articles are based on scientific research, health articles should not be considered as a replacement for professional medical advice. Should you have concerns related to this content, it is advised that you discuss them with your personal healthcare provider.