Updated 17 May 2019

What you need to know about hypertension

From readings to symptoms and statistics, here's what you need to know about blood pressure, on World Hypertension Day.

High blood pressure or hypertension is also known as a "silent killer" due to the fact that there are rarely any physical symptoms and 50% of people with hypertension are unaware of the condition.

It is important to educate yourself on the risks and facts around hypertension, as it can have negative effects on your heart, eyes, brain and kidneys. Hypertension is manageable and is diagnosed by means of a blood pressure reading, measured with a blood pressure gauge. 

Am I at risk for hypertension?

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa, you may be at risk for hypertension if:

  • It runs in your family
  • You are over the age of 55
  • You are not physically active
  • You have an unhealthy diet, particularly one high in salt and low in fruit and vegetables
  • You are overweight or obese
  • You drink an excessive amount of alcohol
  • You smoke 

What is a blood pressure reading?

According to the Southern African Hypertension Society, your blood pressure is recorded as two sets of numbers, one systolic (the first or top number) and the other diastolic (second or lower number). 

Your systolic reading is the pressure measured in your blood vessels when your heart beats, while the diastolic reading is the pressure measured when your heart rests between beats.

When is my blood pressure considered high?

In South Africa, blood pressure is considered high when it is 140/90 mm Hg or higher.

Symptoms of hypertension

Although hypertension rarely displays any symptoms, according to Health24, if your blood pressure is extremely high, common symptoms include facial flush, headaches, visual disturbances, nose bleeds, nausea and vomiting.

Stages of hypertension

Stage 1 or mild hypertension: 140/90 to 159/99

Stage 2 or moderate hypertension: 160/100 to 179/109

Stage 3 or severe hypertension: 180/110 or higher 

What should I do if I suffer from hypertension?

Hypertension is treatable. There are simple changes you can make to maintain a healthy lifestyle and manage your hypertension:

  • Take your prescribed medication regularly
  • Maintain a healthy, well-balanced diet
  • Lower your salt intake
  • Increase physical activity
  • Cut down or stop smoking
  • Maintain a healthy weight
  • Limit or manage stress
  • Limit alcohol consumption
  • Check your blood pressure regularly


Hypertension causes 13% of deaths globally. In South Africa, more than one in three adults lives with high blood pressure. It is responsible for one in every two strokes and two in every five heart attacks, according to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of South Africa.

Click here for more information about hypertension.


Ask the Expert

Hypertension expert

Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

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