News / South Africa / Health
Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe
Hypertension, commonly known as high blood pressure, is a serious condition that can lead to cardiac arrest or heart attack, stroke, heart, kidney failure, blindness and more.
South Africa has one of the highest rates of hypertension worldwide, with an estimated 6.3 million people diagnosed as currently living with the condition – that’s one in three South African adults. Increasing the severity of the situation is the fact that many more people remain undiagnosed, so it can be assumed that the true number may be significantly higher. It is important that one checks their blood pressure regularly, especially if there is a positive family history.
Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps and the amount of resistance to blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure.
You can have high blood pressure for years without any symptoms. Even without symptoms, damage to blood vessels and your heart continues and can be detected. Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk of serious health problems, including heart attack and stroke.
Although high blood pressure is most common in adults, children may be at risk, too. For some children, high blood pressure is caused by problems with the kidneys or heart. But for a growing number of kids, poor lifestyle habits, such as an unhealthy diet, obesity and lack of exercise, contribute to high blood pressure. Most people with high blood pressure have no signs or symptoms, even if blood pressure readings reach dangerously high levels.
A few people with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds, but these signs and symptoms aren’t specific and usually don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.
If you have persistent unexplained headache, it might be worth it to get your blood pressure checked, since none of the symptoms are specific to the condition.
Factors which may increase the risk of one developing hypertension include:
Age. The risk increases with age. At around age 45, high blood pressure is more common in men. Women are more likely to develop high blood pressure after age 65.
Race. High blood pressure is particularly common among blacks, often developing at an earlier age than it does in whites.
Family history. High blood pressure tends to run in families.
Certain medications, such as birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs.
Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines.
Being overweight or obese. The more you weigh the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues.
Not being physically active. People who are inactive tend to have higher heart rates. The higher your heart rate, the harder your heart must work with each contraction and the stronger the force on your arteries.
Using tobacco. Tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls. This can cause your arteries to narrow, increasing your blood pressure.
Too much salt (sodium) in your diet. This can cause your body to retain fluid, which increases blood pressure. Cutting out beverages with high sugar like soda, sweetened tea, all other sugary drinks should be the first step in any hypertension treatment, and can also help with shedding excess weight and reducing high blood sugar – both issues that further contribute to hypertension.
A reduction in carbohydrate consumption has been shown to be more effective in lowering blood pressure than eating a low fat diet. Reducing your carbohydrate intake to less than 100 grams per day will reduce your blood pressure by a variety of mechanisms.
Carbohydrate reduction will reduce insulin resistance and which can reduce the activation of the sympathetic nervous system, cause blood vessel relaxation and dilation by increasing the production of nitric oxide and reverse the abnormal sodium (table salt) retention from the kidneys.
Dr Dulcy Rakumakoe. Picture: Refilwe Modise
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