“I Was Fit And ‘Healthy’, And I Was Diagnosed With Hypertension”
Hypertension is known as the ‘silent killer’ because, despite there being no signs or symptoms, it can lead to serious cardiovascular disease. A blood pressure test is the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high.
“South Africa has seen an exponential growth in hypertension or high blood pressure (BP) over the last 20 years,” says Professor Bryan Rayner, nephrologist and director of the Hypertension Institute at the University of Cape Town. “In a sense we are facing a national health emergency, but because the links between high BP and death, heart disease and stroke are indirect, public awareness is poor.”
Men’s Health received the following anonymous testimonial which brings home the fact that the disease has no bias:
Occupation: Public Health Medicine Specialist and PhD student
Last November, I had just trained at the gym and I decided to have my blood pressure checked as there was a nurse on site. It turned out that my BP was higher than normal. My trainer suggested that it may be because I had been exercising hard and I should not be too concerned. A few weeks later, I had another check, and it was even higher; when I went to have a third test, it was an astonishingly high 190/120.
Readings above 180 systolic pressure or above 110 diastolic pressure indicate that you are in a hypertensive crisis, which meant that my health was at risk. To make matters worse, I was about to leave for London on a work trip. I went to the emergency room at the hospital where it was confirmed again that my BP was dangerously high. The doctor on duty advised me to see a specialist in order to obtain a comprehensive diagnosis. My husband was seriously concerned, and he suggested I see his physician before I board the plane.
I am 45 years old, I go to gym twice a week, run twice a week, I had just completed a half marathon, changed my lifestyle and had just lost 10kg when I got the diagnosis. Like many people with hypertension, I had no signs or symptoms of the disease, which is why it was such a surprise to me.
I was started on a specific treatment which I started taking on the same day as my flight to the UK. On my return, I went to my physician who over a few weeks changed my treatment to two types of medication and was relieved after a few months to discover that my BP had returned to a normal, healthy level. I haven’t experienced any side effects which is great as I will have to take the medication for the rest of my life.
As a family, we have made a few changes to our diet, avoiding too many carbs and cutting out sugar. The thing I am struggling with most is giving up salt, but I’m working on it. It’s important to talk to your children and educate them about what it means to be conscious about your lifestyle and what you eat. My two children are now far more aware of the importance of a healthy diet.
The higher your blood pressure, the stronger the likelihood of serious consequences for your heart, brain or kidneys. I recommend that everyone over the age of 40 has regular BP checks – for me, it was a lifesaver as hypertension is a silent killer and I was nearly a statistic!
What Are The Risk Factors?
“Risk factors for hypertension are a family history of hypertension, diabetes or stroke; obesity; African ethnicity; sedentary lifestyle; diabetes; high BP in pregnancy; and a poor diet with excess alcohol, sugar and salt,” says Rayner. “High BP generally causes no symptoms before it strikes unexpectedly. But the very good news is that medication, combined with a healthy lifestyle, can prevent complications.”
In 2017, an estimated 42% to 54% of people were suffering from hypertension in South Africa and this figure is expected to increase. Moreover, hypertension is the leading risk factor for heart disease and stroke. Other complications can include heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, renal impairment, retinal haemorrhage and visual impairment. Hypertension is the leading cause of mortality, with an estimated 1.2 billion sufferers globally. In South Africa, more than one in three adults live with high blood pressure and it is responsible for one in every two strokes and two in every five heart attacks.
According to Dr Stuart Ali, project manager and researcher at the Sydney Brenner Institute for Molecular Bioscience at Wits University, “For men, only 40% were aware of their hypertension condition. Of those who knew and were being treated, only 39% had controlled blood pressure.”
“No one is immune to hypertension – black or white, male or female, rich or poor, old or young, overweight or thin, fit or unfit – and it is essential that everyone has their BP screened regularly especially if you have risk factors for hypertension,” says Rayner. “If your BP is greater than 140/90, further evaluation is required by a health professional. If your BP is between 130-140/80-90, implement lifestyle changes as you are at risk for hypertension.”
Get Your Blood Pressure Checked
Blood pressure screening empowers people to know where they stand and allows them to manage their blood pressure to reduce their risk of a cardiovascular event.
Having a blood pressure check is quick, simple and non-invasive. Usually, the healthcare professional will use an electronic device that is strapped to the upper arm. The cuff or band squeezes the arm for several seconds, cutting off blood flow, and then releases. It is important that some simple rules are followed when checking for hypertension: sitting calmly, feet flat on floor, back supported and not having eaten (or smoked) in the past hour.
The Southern African Hypertension Society (SAHS) will be running screening days and raising awareness of hypertension in May at various venues across the country. Click here to find one near you.