17 May marks World Hypertension Day, highlighting a condition that is often neglected in mom’s-to-be, yet poses a serious threat to expectant mothers in South Africa.
This World Hypertension Day the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) and the National Department of Health would like to make all potential and expectant mothers aware of the dangers of hypertension and encourage them to 'know their numbers' by getting their blood pressures checked. Embarking on the journey of motherhood can be a pleasurable and memorable experience. However, pregnancy can be overshadowed by hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. Uncontrolled hypertension prior to pregnancy or hypertension developed during pregnancy poses a risk to both mother and unborn baby. This highlights the importance of early and regular blood pressure testing.
Hypertension can affect an expectant mother in two ways: 1) She might have existing hypertension prior to becoming pregnant, or 2) Hypertension may develop in the second half of pregnancy. When high blood pressure is accompanied by protein in the urine, and swollen ankles, fingers and face; it is particularly serious and is called pre-eclampsia. For both types of hypertension in pregnancy, if hypertension is not detected and then controlled, it can cause low birth weight or require early delivery of the baby. Hypertension and especially pre-eclampsia can furthermore be very harmful to the mother as well, by causing seizures, damaging the kidneys, liver and brain and increasing the risk of stroke.
“We have seen a 33 percent increase in high blood pressure problems during pregnancy worldwide and an alarming 1 in 6 maternal deaths in South Africa are due to hypertensive disorders. Not only can hypertension have serious consequences for the infant during pregnancy, but it may also promote heart disease in the child during his/her lifetime” says Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, chief executive officer of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa.
There are certain factors that can put one at an increased risk of hypertension during pregnancy. Factors include hypertension during a previous pregnancy, obesity, being under the age of 20 years and over the age of 40 years, having diabetes and other chronic illnesses, and being pregnant with more than one baby. Women with any of these factors should be especially vigilant. Severe headaches and visual disturbances are warning signs that require an urgent visit to your clinic. The good news is that regular testing of blood pressure can go a long way to help control hypertension and pre-eclampsia. Therefore our aim is to improve the detection of high blood pressure by encouraging all women to have their blood pressure checked regularly, especially when considering falling pregnant and during pregnancy.
Dr Yogan Pillay, deputy director general: HIV/AIDS, TB and Maternal, Child and Women’s Health at the National Department of Health says: “Expectant mothers have a right to know what to expect when expecting. Primary health care plays a critical role in ensuring the prevention and risk reduction of hypertension during pregnancy. South African women have the right to a safe pregnancy and comprehensive antenatal care. We would therefore like to emphasise the need for all future and expectant mothers to get their blood pressure measured and urine tested.”
How can women with existing hypertension prevent problems during pregnancy? Firstly, it is important to control your blood pressure, and speak to your doctor or nurse when thinking about falling pregnant. Discuss with your doctor how hypertension might affect you or your baby and how to adapt or change any current blood pressure medication. Continue to monitor blood pressure regularly throughout your pregnancy as advised by your doctor or clinic. Ensure that you are eating healthily, limiting salt intake, being active and avoiding alcohol or tobacco products. In addition, taking calcium supplementation can prevent pre-eclampsia.
How can women be sure not to get hypertension or pre-eclampsia during pregnancy? Regular visits to the doctor or clinic are important to ensure a safe pregnancy. For a healthy pregnancy one should:
- First and foremost ensure that you are in the best possible health before thinking of falling pregnant; including managing a healthy weight, being physically active and not smoking.
- Get early and regular care from a doctor.
- Follow all the doctor’s recommendations.
- Do what you can to help manage blood pressure. Eat a healthy diet including plenty of fruit and vegetable, daily dairy, and limit intake of salt and salty foods.
- Take a calcium supplement as advised and directed by your doctor.
Hypertension has no symptoms or warning signs, therefore checking blood pressure regularly throughout pregnancy and beyond is important to monitor the health and well-being of mom and baby. This World Hypertension Day, we encourage all women to know their numbers by visiting their nearest clinic, GP practice, nearest pharmacy or obstetrician to get their blood pressure checked.
Information sources available for interviews:
Dr Vash Mungal-Singh
Chief Executive Officer
Heart and Stroke Foundation SA
Science and Programme Development Manager
Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa
Prof. Karen Sliwa-Hahnle
Professor of Cardiovascular Research and Director
University of Cape Town
Prof Susan Fawcus
Head of Obstetrics and Gynaecology
Mowbray Maternity Hospital
About The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa
The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa plays a leading role in the fight against preventable heart disease and stroke, with the aim of seeing fewer South Africans suffer premature deaths and disabilities. The HSF, established in 1980 is a non-governmental, non-profit organisation and has NPO and section 21 status.
For more information, contact the Heart and Stroke Health Line on 0860 1 HEART (43278) or visit www.heartfoundation.co.za. For any Salt Watch inquiries e-mail us on email@example.com or visit www.saltwatch.co.za, you can also find us on www.facebook.com/HeartStrokeSA and www.twitter.com/SAHeartStroke.
For more information contact:
Public Relations & Communications Officer
The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa
Tel: 021-422 1586
For more about the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, refer to www.heartfoundation.co.za.
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