01 June 2018

5 common hypertension myths debunked

You are not keen on salty food and not overweight. This means you will never suffer from high blood pressure, right? Wrong. We dispel some common hypertension myths.

High blood pressure or hypertension is often dubbed “the silent killer”. It's a chronic disease where the pressure or tension in your arteries is too high.

This pressure is generated by the pumping action of the heart and counteracted by the resistance of the small arteries. We debunk five common myths about hypertension: 

1. 'I don’t add extra salt to any of my foods – therefore I’m not at risk.'

Well done for not adding extra salt to your food, but unfortunately this doesn’t mean that you don’t consume hidden sodium. Eating salt raises your sodium level, which disturbs the delicate balance of water in your body, causing it to hold on to more water, which raises your blood pressure. Unfortunately table salt isn’t the only culprit – because sodium can be found in so many processed products, you may be blissfully unaware that you are consuming more sodium than you actually need.

According to a previous a Health24 article, bread, cereals and meat products (polony, Vienna sausages, salami, ham, sausages/boerewors, meat pies) are major contributors to salt intake from processed food. In South Africa, bread provides the greatest contribution to total dietary sodium intake.

This article also mentions that South African bread contains more salt than breads in many other countries. Unsure about your salt intake? Check the labels on processed products to see the amount of sodium they contain – you may be surprised.

woman cooking with salt

2. 'High blood pressure runs in my family – so there is nothing I can do about it.'

High blood pressure is hereditary, but that doesn’t mean you are doomed to suffer the effects of hypertension. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa, hypertension can be controlled by making healthy lifestyle choices. It’s important to understand your family’s health history and to know whether hypertension runs in your family. If it does, you can take extra measures to control your blood pressure.  

3. 'I am not overweight and I don’t smoke – there is no way I can have high blood pressure.'

Some lifestyle factors, such as smoking and being overweight, can increase your risk for hypertension. It is therefore easy to believe that you are not susceptible to high blood pressure if you follow a fairly healthy lifestyle. 

High blood pressure can be slightly elevated when you are stressed or anxious, but if the reading is still high after several measurements, you will need to get to the bottom of the problem. Hypertension can also be genetic, but you can keep your blood pressure in check by controlling your sodium intake and destressing.

woman on scale

4. 'I have no symptoms – I shouldn’t be worried.'

Have we mentioned that hypertension is called “the silent killer”? According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is mostly without symptoms and if you ignore your blood pressure because you think a certain symptom or sign will alert you to the problem, you are taking a dangerous risk. You may not be aware of the silent toll it might be taking on your arteries and organs.

Have your blood pressure measured by a medical professional during each checkup.

5. High blood pressure is the same as a high heart rate.

High blood pressure is not the same as a high heart rate and the latter isn't an indication of hypertension as such.

If you have a high heart rate, an irregular heartbeat or a rapid pulse, this doesn’t mean that you suffer from hypertension.

A high heart rate does not cause your blood pressure to rise. If you are healthy, your blood vessels will enlarge sufficiently to allow a larger amount of blood through, especially during exercise.

If you suffer from hypertension, speak to your doctor before starting a serious exercise regime – an elevated heart rate can cause problems if your blood vessels can’t let larger volumes of blood through.

Image credit: iStock


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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