What Shauwn MaMkhize, Toni Braxton and Oprah learned after being diagnosed with high blood pressure

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Shauwn Mkhize, Toni Braxton and Oprah Winfrey have all shared their blood pressure battles publicly.
Shauwn Mkhize, Toni Braxton and Oprah Winfrey have all shared their blood pressure battles publicly.
Instagram,Getty Images

There was a time when it was considered a lifestyle disease affecting only elders. But more and more evidence is showing that young people are increasingly at risk of developing high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

In Cape Town alone, City facilities have reported 2 241 new cases of hypertension in the 18-44 age group in the past 12 months compared to 1 320 in the preceding year. 

“Less than 50% of adults with hypertension are on treatment with antihypertensive medication, or were aware that they had high blood pressure,” Councillor Patricia van der Ross, the City’s Mayoral Committee Member for Community Services and Health, said ahead of this year’s World Hypertension Day which is being commemorated under the theme Measure Your Blood Pressure Accurately, Control It, Live Longer.

In the 45 plus age group in the past 12 months, there were 1 875 new cases in the province compared to 1 385 the previous year. 

Hard to detect unless tested and deadly when not treated, high blood pressure is manageable. Here are some lessons shared by some stars who have been diagnosed with it.

OPRAH WINFREY: ‘STAY IN A HEALTHY WEIGHT RANGE’

Oprah’s battle with weight has been well-documented but it was a shocker when the then news director of her network, O!, revealed that the Queen of Talk began her last popularised diet before joining Weight Watchers out of fear of death.

“Her heart had begun racing so fast she couldn’t sleep, and it scared her,” Liz Brody told Good Morning America. “She went to a number of doctors and found out that her blood pressure was very high.”

Oprah shed 14kg at the time and did a ‘new me’ cover reveal on O! Magazine, but the weight did not stay down for long. Now she’s made peace with the fact that she can’t be skinny but her near-death experience with high blood pressure taught her to stay in a healthy weight range to put less pressure on her heart.

Read more | Visits to 30 doctors in 6 years – what it took for South African sufferer of rare illness to get help

She won’t allow herself to go above 90kg, she candidly told the New York Times Magazine. “For your heart to pump, pump, pump, pump, it needs the least amount of weight possible to do that,” she said. 

“So all of the people who are saying, ‘Oh, I need to accept myself as I am’ – I can’t accept myself if I’m over 200 pounds, because it’s too much work on my heart. It causes high blood pressure for me. It puts me at risk for diabetes, because I have diabetes in my family.”

TONI BRAXTON: ‘NO MORE BURGERS & PIZZA’

“You can be in your 30s, less than 115 pounds, exercise – and have heart disease.” This was the lesson Toni Braxton shared after she discovered in 2007 that she had high blood pressure – 160/105 without medication.

Increasingly more young people are being diagnosed with hypertension. “You think it’s some older guy, retired,” the singer, who was 40 when she was diagnosed, told Newsweek.

The Unbreak My Heart singer has been battling a number of diseases, including lupus, and she revealed her hypertension diagnosis to People magazine after she became an ambassador for a heart health organisation. “When I found out I was disappointed. I didn't get it,” Toni said at the time. 

“But I soon learnt I had to make lifestyle changes.” One of those changes was to her diet. “I always ate relatively well, but sometimes I would have pizzas and burgers late at night – I had to change that.” 

SHAUWN MKHIZE: ‘DON’T TAKE YOUR HEALTH FOR GRANTED’

“I went from being well one day, to being bed ridden diagnosed with high blood pressure the next,” businesswoman and reality TV star Shauwn Mkhize shared on Instagram a few months ago.

She said she was feeling better and indeed has been the picture of good health since then, posting pictures of herself attending various functions looking well and happy. The lesson she learnt from the life-threatening experience she says is the importance of taking care of one’s health.

“One word of advice I’d like to share is for us to not take our health for granted and to listen to our bodies,” said MaMkhize.

WHAT IS BLOOD PRESSURE?

Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your heart uses to pump blood around your body. It is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and is given as two figures:

• Systolic pressure – the pressure when your heart pushes blood out

• Diastolic pressure – the pressure when your heart rests between beats

An ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. The first number is the systolic pressure and second is the diastolic pressure.

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Hypertension is defined as a reading of 140/90 or higher.

HOW DO I KNOW IF I’VE GOT HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

You need to get tested. Like MaMkhize and Toni have said, you can look and feel healthy one day, then feel ill the next. It’s called the silent killer because it has no symptoms, which is why more than 50% of people with high blood pressure are unaware of their condition.

High blood pressure means the pressure of the blood is raised in the arteries. Your heart has to work very hard to pump the blood through the system, and the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high. It’s diagnosed when a blood pressure reading is higher than 140/90 mm Hg.

Read more | Why you don’t want that extra pinch of salt

“It’s imported to get tested because if the condition is diagnosed early, it can be controlled and therefore help prevent complications,” according to KZN-based GP Dr Thuthukile Goba.

“The longer a person lives with undiagnosed, untreated hypertension, the higher the risks of developing complications like stroke and heart failure.”

What can I do to reduce my risk of hypertension?

  • Maintain a healthy lifestyle by being physically active on a regular basis
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Reduce your salt intake (to less than 5g daily) 
  • Avoid tobacco use and vaping 
  • Reduce alcohol consumption
  • Eat more vegetables and fruit
  • Limit your intake of foods high in saturated fats 
  • Eliminate or reduce trans fats in your diet

Source: www.capetown.gov.za

Additional sources: Good Morning America; New York Times Magazine; Newsweek  / Additional reporting by Jane Surtees 

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