The spotlight this World Hypertension Day falls on South Africans who may not know that they are suffering from high blood pressure, which puts them at risk of life-threatening medical conditions like heart disease and stroke.
Do you know if you have high blood pressure? Do you know what the dangers of high blood pressure, or hypertension, are? This year, World Hypertension Day falls on 17 May and the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa is marking the date by making South Africans aware of the dangers of having high blood pressure.
Many people don't know that they are suffering from hypertension - a condition that is potentially life-threatening and can lead to diseases such as stroke and heart disease. There are often no obvious symptoms of high blood pressure, and yet the consequences can be deadly. Worldwide, one in three people have high blood pressure while in South Africa over 6.3 million people are believed to have high blood pressure, meaning the country has one of the highest rates of hypertension in the world.
About 130 people die every day from a heart attack in South Africa, and 240 people suffer from a stroke. The effects from a stroke can be devastating, with possible paralysis, loss of speech and even brain damage. High blood pressure can also cause blindness, kidney disease and heart failure.
Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, chief executive officer of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, says: “It is vital that people know what their blood pressure is. Because there are no obvious symptoms, many people walk around suffering from hypertension without being aware of it. This puts them at tremendous health risk.”
The good news is that there is a lot you can do to treat high blood pressure - although prevention is always better than cure. Besides eating a healthy diet, exercise and stopping smoking, one of the most important things people need to know is that eating too much salt can increase blood pressure.
“Most people don’t realise how much salt they are consuming, both at the table and hidden in processed foods,” says Dr Mungal-Singh.
The maximum recommended amount of salt is one teaspoon (5g) a day. But a typical South African diet contains far more salt in frequently consumed foods than the recommended daily limit. For example, a typical daily diet may include a bowl of cereal (1.4g of salt) for breakfast, followed by a packet of chips as a snack in the morning (1.1g of salt). Over lunch a hot dog and chips can have up to 3.6g of salt, while a cup of soup with noodles can have 3.5g of salt. Having a pizza for dinner can be around 6.2g of salt, which all amounts to 16g of salt - over 3 teaspoons of salt!
“It is important that people start checking labels of foods in supermarkets and become aware of how much salt they are consuming,” says Dr Mungal-Singh, pointing out that many people don’t realise that some foods like bread contain extremely high levels of salt.
Consumers are advised to look out for products with the Heart Mark as these contain less salt, and to stop using salt indiscriminately at the table and while cooking - focus rather on adding flavour and taste through natural and healthy options like lemon juice, spices and herbs.
The South African government recently announced that it was taking a leading role in getting people to cut down on salt by introducing groundbreaking salt legislation. This has come about as a result of the national Department of Health recognising the need to lower blood pressure and to save lives by making salt reduction mandatory in the food industry.
The Heart and Stroke Foundation has welcomed the legislation and has expressed support for government’s efforts in reducing salt consumption. Dr Mungal-Singh says lowering salt intake is a collaborative effort between government, the food industry, communities and organisations.
“But South Africans need to become more aware about the dangers of eating too much salt. They need to know their blood pressure status so they can do something about avoiding hypertension and the medical conditions associated with this condition.”
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For more about the Heart & Stroke Foundation South Africa, refer to www.heartfoundation.co.za.
To view other NGO press releases, refer to www.ngopulse.org/group/home-page/pressreleases.