Hypertension - otherwise known as high blood pressure - is on the rise in South Africa because of the lifestyle changes brought about by urbanisation, a doctor at a medical insurance company warned on Thursday.
"It is largely because an urban lifestyle leads to things that can lead to hypertension - like a lack of physical activity, being overweight, more salt, a stressful occupation," said Dr Dominique Stott, of PPS financial services, which provides healthcare products to graduates.
Studies on the "silent killer" in South Africa showed that an estimated 25% of adult men and 15% of adult women had hypertension.
The risk of developing hypertension increased with age and a family history of the condition, with people over 50 more likely to be affected.
High blood pressure in South Africa
The increase in South Africa was due to the population leading a more urban lifestyle, and to better detection rates.
Many medical aids encouraged an annual checkup as part of their wellness plans and this was when problems such as hypertension were detected.
Stott recommended that men get checked for hypertension once a year, women once every two years and that people from families with a history of the condition be checked more often.
After the check up, people should introduce lifestyle modifications such as decreasing salt intake, taking up exercise, eat more fruit and vegetables and less processed foods, eat less food slower and take alcohol in moderation.
If medication was recommended, they should comply with the treatment and the maintenance programme.
Stress and hypertension in SA
Stott said longer working hours and increased stress levels could contribute to hypertension, which can lead to other health conditions such as stroke or heart problems, or at worst, reduce life expectancy by 20 years.
A study of more than 7000 civil servants in the United Kingdom - conducted at University College London over 13 years - found that office workers who regularly worked 11-hour days or more were 67% more likely to develop heart disease than those who worked seven or eight-hour days.
The first symptom of hypertension was usually a stroke.
"Hypertension will affect organs that are susceptible to an increase in internal pressure," PPS said in an earlier statement, quoting Stott.
"In the brain it can lead to dementia; in the eyes to reduced vision or blindness; in the kidneys to organ failure and in the heart to an enlarged heart and heart disease, including heart attacks," it said.
Graham Anderson, principal Officer at Profmed Medical Scheme, warned that hypertension was also more commonly found in the black population and was fast becoming a more common problem among urban blacks.
This was due to a western lifestyle being adopted in these areas.
Financial cover for people with hypertension
"Kidney failure, for example, is four times higher in the black population due to the high incidence of hypertension in this group.
"In a six-year study of patients with chronic kidney failure, hypertension was reported to be the cause of chronic kidney failure in 34,6% of blacks but only 4,3% of whites," he said.
Stott recommended that people prone to the illness, consider taking out financial cover.
"For anyone who may be at risk of developing hypertension, it is essential to ensure that they have some form of life cover in place as early as possible, as the onset of the diseases commonly leads to a loading of premium or a decline in life and other risk benefits."