16 May 2011

World Hypertension Day: know your risk

Do you know your blood pressure reading? Not monitoring your blood pressure could lead to hypertension, a leading cause of heart attacks, strokes, kidney failure and early death.

How many people know their blood pressure reading?  In the fast-paced society in which we live, stress and tension have become part of our daily lives and monitoring our blood pressure is just not a priority.  This lack of awareness can lead to hypertension and a host of potential medical conditions.

So what should you look out for? 

There are rarely any visible symptoms, only in most extreme cases (hypertensive crisis) sufferers may or may not experience: severe headache, nosebleeds, shortness of breath and severe anxiety.

  • A family history of high blood pressure
  • Ethnicity eg. the black African population has a greater predisposition to hypertension
  • Age: the risk of developing high blood pressure increases with age
  • Being overweight (especially around the stomach area) contributes to a 2-6 times higher risk!
  • An unhealthy diet, especially one that includes a too much salt
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • Physical inactivity
  • Smoking
  • Stress
  • Pregnancy
  • Certain medications like birth control pills, steroids and anti-inflammatory drugs
  • Severe kidney disease

  • Get tested! The HSFSA recommends getting your blood pressure tested at least once a year, and more often if you have a family history of hypertension
  • Eat small, regular meals every day
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet
  • Enjoy a variety of fruits and vegetables (at least 5 servings a day)
  • Avoid fatty foods, especially those that are high in saturated fats (e.g. full cream dairy products, meat, chicken skin and fried foods)
  • Eat foods that are high in fibre and whole grains (limit refined foods and drinks high in added sugars)
  • Choose Heart Mark products when shopping or eating out as these are healthier alternatives – visit for a list of products endorsed by the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA
  • Overweight people are advised to lose weight. Losing as little as 5-10% of your total body weight can lead to a meaningful drop in blood pressure
  • Limit total salt (sodium chloride) intake. This not only includes table salt but also salt that is hidden in processed and packaged foods.  We recommend no more than 5 g (1 teaspoon) of salt per day
  • If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation. Limit daily intake to 1 drink per day in women and 2 drinks per day in men
  • Include regular physical activity as part of your daily routine (aim for at least 30 minutes of moderate intensity exercise 5 times a week)


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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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