OPINION | World Hypertension Day: Each one take one – for a blood pressure screening

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  • Approximately a third of adults worldwide have high blood pressure.
  • Many of them are unaware that they have hypertension.
  • Regular checkups are crucial because hypertension affects our health and the economy of the country.  

Think of yourself and one other person close to you – your best friend, partner, sibling or parent. Either you or that person could have hypertension. Furthermore, you may not be aware of it.

In my life, that person is my mother. Now 67, she was diagnosed at age 35 during an annual screening check. She was otherwise well with no health concerns and had no symptoms. If she hadn’t been checked, she may have found out too late and I would have been sharing a different story today. My mum has managed her hypertension well over the years, complementing her prescribed chronic medication with regular exercise (running) and healthy eating.

But there are too many who don’t know they have hypertension. You may not be aware you have it until it’s too late, which is why clinicians preach screening, screening and more screening. I love the theme for World Hypertension Day, celebrated on 17 May: Measure Your Blood Pressure Accurately, Control It, Live Longer.

The numbers are startling:

A matter of life or death – and an economic burden

Hypertension can cause serious damage to the heart as it has to work harder to pump blood through the body, which can lead to heart enlargement and heart failure. Excessively raised blood pressure also leads to hardening of the arteries over time, which decreases blood flow and oxygen supply to the heart, potentially leading to heart attacks. It can also result in blockages or tears in the arteries that supply blood and oxygen to the brain. This is what causes a stroke. In addition, hypertension can cause kidney damage, leading to kidney failure.

A recent study also shows the heavy economic burden it creates in the country:

  • Direct healthcare costs were estimated to be R 10.1 billion annually, while societal costs (lost productivity due to illness) were estimated to be R 29.4 billion annually
  • Direct healthcare costs were greater for women compared to men, while societal costs were greater for men compared to women

The burden on our bodies individually – and collectively on our healthcare system – is one that we cannot afford, especially as there are simple, accessible screening and treatment interventions.

What you can do about it today

Hypertension is often called a silent killer because it may have no warning signs or symptoms. Many people with hypertension only have symptoms when their blood pressure is very high, or they have a serious complication such as a heart attack or stroke. Hence, it is crucial that we measure our blood pressure regularly.

There are some risk factors for hypertension we can’t change (for example, family history or age) but there is plenty we can do – improving our diets (eating less salt and saturated fat, and more fruits and vegetables), being physically active, not smoking or abusing alcohol and reaching and maintaining a healthy weight. These all have a positive impact on reducing our risk of high blood pressure.

But the first step is to make an appointment to #KnowYourNumbers. By getting screened, you can detect and control hypertension early, reducing your chances of future complications.

*Dr Mosima Mabunda is Head of Wellness at Discovery Vitality

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