Early treatment can prevent future disease
Millions of South Africans suffer from chronic high blood pressure. This condition, known as hypertension, is a major risk factor for stroke, heart disease, including heart attack and heart failure, vascular disease and kidney disease. There are often no obvious symptoms of high blood pressure, yet the consequences can be deadly.
“People often ask their doctors why they should take tablets every day for the rest of their lives for a problem that does not make them feel unwell. The reason to treat hypertension, or high blood pressure, is in order to prevent disease in the future,” says Prof Bob Mash, specialist in Family Medicine and Primary Care at Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences.
“Doctors used to just consider the blood pressure alone and decide to treat when the pressure reached a certain level. But nowadays the doctor is meant to consider the overall cardiovascular risk of the person,” says Mash, explaining that hypertension treatment has undergone a major rethink.
In order to do this the doctor needs to know a number of other risk factors, such as whether the person smokes tobacco, is overweight or obese, has a high cholesterol level or has diabetes.
“The risk of disease is also higher as you get older and in men more than women. If your risk of cardiovascular disease is more than 20 percent in the next 10 years then most doctors would recommend treating the blood pressure to reduce your risk,” says Mash.
Treating hypertension is not limited to taking tablets and certain behavioural changes, such as following a healthy diet and maintaining a healthy weight, can also lower a person’s blood pressure. “If you are on treatment for hypertension it is still important to try and change your behaviour to reduce the amount of medication needed to control your blood pressure,” says Mash.
It is important to note that certain over-the-counter medication, such as ibuprofen, can interfere with hypertension medication, therefore it is important to consult with a pharmacist before taking any new medication. Women should also avoid oestrogen-containing oral contraceptive pills if they have hypertension.
“Many people remain unaware of their cardiovascular risk and raised blood pressure. Everyone should check their blood pressure at least once every five years,” says Mash. Many pharmacies and all primary care clinics are able to check your blood pressure.
He warns that hypertension should not be diagnosed on the basis of just one reading, as blood pressure varies and can be raised by stress, even the stress of seeing a doctor.
Follow these guidelines to lower your blood pressure:
- Salt raises blood pressure and the South African government has recently implemented legislation to gradually reduce the salt content in common foods such as bread. Don’t add salt at the table to your food and avoid very salty processed foods such as packet soups, stock cubes or gravies.
- Overweight or obese people can reduce their blood pressure by losing weight through healthy eating and physical activity. Reduce portion sizes, especially large amounts of starchy food, increase fruit and vegetable intake, reduce fatty foods and use less sugar. Increase the amount of physical activity that raises your heart rate and makes you sweat a little at least 150 minutes a week.
- Alcohol consumption increases blood pressure and it is important to only drink in moderation. Men should not exceed 21 drinks per week, women 14 drinks per week, or more than 5 drinks at a time. A drink is one small glass of wine, one can of beer or one tot of spirits.
- If you smoke tobacco you can also reduce your cardiovascular risk further by cutting down or stopping altogether.
For more information contact:
Tel: +27 (0)21 938 9359
Marketing and Communications Office
Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences
For more about the Stellenbosch University’s Faculty of Medicine and Health Sciences, refer to www.sun.ac.za/health.
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