Updated 04 May 2018

What is the prevalence of hypertension?

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 about blood pressure.

However genetic predisposition also plays a major role and if there is a history of hypertension or stroke in your family, early screening is advised.

More than 6.2 million South Africans have blood pressure higher than 140/90mmHg. More than 3.2 million of these have blood pressure higher than 160/95mmHg, a level, which is unacceptably high, according to researchers.

An estimated 53 men and 78 women die in South Africa each day from the impact of hypertension.

Black South Africans suffering from hypertension are at higher risk of developing cerebral bleeding, malignant hypertension, and/or kidney disease, leading to congestive heart failure. According to studies by Wits University, hypertension is responsible for 33% of heart failure cases in the black population.

Indian and white South Africans with hypertension are at higher risk of developing coronary artery disease, leading to heart attacks.

High blood pressure is only under control if it is stabilised below a level of 140/90mmHg by means of treatment. Levels of 160/90mmHg do not translate to good control of blood pressure levels, since any blood pressure higher than 140/90mmHg could lead to gradual organ damage.

Levels of blood pressure control are shockingly low, even in developed countries. In South Africa, only 21% of men and 36% of women with hypertension are taking drugs to reduce their blood pressure, while only 10% of men and 18% of women have their blood pressure levels reduced to the level that will eliminate the risk to their hearts, brain and kidneys.

A study by Wits University showed that about 40% of the black population suffers from hypertension, but only 20% are on treatment. However, more than 30% of the 20% on treatment are not treated to target, and their blood pressure levels are still too high to prevent target organ damage.

Patients who cease taking their medication because of unpleasant side effects must be made aware of the consequences of uncontrolled blood pressure. The good news is that due to a wide variety of different blood pressure treatments, a patient can be treated correctly without unwanted side effects.

(Reviewed and updated by Prof Brian Rayner, head of the division of nephrology and hypertension, University of Cape Town and Groote Schuur Academic Hospital, November 2010)

Image credit: iStock


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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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