Updated 08 February 2018

When is blood pressure considered high?

Researchers from the Medical Research Council are of the opinion that normal blood pressure should not exceed 130/85 mm Hg.

Researchers are of the opinion that normal blood pressure should not exceed 130/85 mm Hg, with the highest reading considered normal being 140/90 mm Hg. Contrary to what doctors thought for many years, blood pressure is not sufficiently controlled unless it is brought to a level lower than 140/90 mm Hg.

Blood pressure fluctuations
Blood pressure fluctuations, experienced by all people, are not a problem as long as the blood pressure returns to a normal baseline rapidly. It is the sustained increase in blood pressure that cuases havoc, especially when accompanied by risk factors and co-existing disease.

However, in people with undiagnosed hypertension, even the daily fluctuations may pose a health risk.

Hypertension often has no symptoms and may go undetected for years. All adults, even if feeling "healthy", should be screened for high blood pressure on a regular basis.

Diagnosed, but not treated properly
In many cases where people have been diagnosed with high blood pressure and they are receiving treatment, the patient’s high blood pressure is not controlled nearly well enough. Contrary to popular opinion, high blood pressure often occurs in younger people.

Several community studies done by the Medical Research Council (MRC) showed that one out of every four people between the ages of 15 and 64 suffer from high blood pressure. Unhealthy lifestyle habits and eating habits play a great role in the developing of high blood pressure, according to Dr Krisela Steyn, MRC researcher and project leader of several studies concerning blood pressure.

More than 6,2 million South Africans have blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg. More than 3,2 million of these have blood pressure higher than 160/95 mm Hg, a level, which is unacceptably high, according to researchers.

High blood pressure is only under control if it is kept under a level of 140/90 mm Hg by means of treatment. Many doctors are wrongly of the opinion that levels of 160/90 mm Hg translate to good control of blood pressure levels, but anything above 140/90 mm Hg could lead to gradual organ damage.

Most effective drugs not always prescribed
According to a recent MRC study, many doctors ignore the SA Hypertension Association’s guidelines for the most effective hypertension drugs and too easily prescribe newer hypertension drugs (ACE inhibitors and calcium antagonists) even though studies have not yet proven that these drugs prevent long term complications of high blood pressure effectively.

Patients who cease taking their medication because of unpleasant side effects, must be made aware of the consequences of uncontrolled blood pressure.

High blood pressure can mostly be controlled by medication, together with a healthy diet, weight loss for overweight people, sufficient mild exercise, limiting alcohol consumption and by stopping smoking.

(Mari Hudson, Editor Health24)

Read more:
Excess body fat - is it really such a hazard?
Hypertension and your brain


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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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