Hypertension – more commonly known as high blood pressure (BP) – is acknowledged as the ‘silent killer’ because it’s just that. Despite there being no indications or symptoms of ill health, this invisible illness can potentially, if left unchecked, lead to serious heart disease, stroke and even death. With relatively few people making the connection between raised BP and the devastating consequences of the illness – awareness levels need urgent attention to curb the exponential growth of the disease in South Africa. A BP test is the only way to find out if BP levels are elevated – a non-invasive and really quick measure that will immediately determine if levels are unacceptably high – and in May, South Africans can get free BP testing thanks to a collaborative campaign, May Measurement Month, being orchestrated by the International Society of Hypertension (ISH), the Southern African Hypertension Society (SAHS), Servier, National Department of Health (DOH), Dis-Chem, Novartis, OMRON and MSD. [FIND A TESTING SITE HERE: http://bit.ly/bptest2019]
Recognising the importance of halting the progression of the disease, May Measurement Month is a public service health campaign that aims to considerably bolster awareness of the importance of having blood pressure routinely checked. More than that, it will focus on mobilising South Africans to go for free BP screening during May; tests that will be run by the SAHS.
The frightening truth of the hypertension disease burden is the number of people with raised BP is on an upward trajectory, particularly in low and middle-income countries in Africa, with no signs of slowing down. Globally, adults with raised BP grew from 594-million to 1.13-billion between 1975 and 20153a. Of great concern is that over these four decades research has shown that the highest worldwide BP levels shifted from high-income countries to low-income, developing countries, and by 2015, sub-Saharan Africa joined central and Eastern Europe and south Asia as the regions with the highest global BP levels3b.
According to the President of the ISH, Prof Alta Schutte, some of the highest blood pressures in the world have been recorded in Sub-Saharan Africa. Locally, the picture is just as gloomy with many believing we are facing a national health emergency. “In South Africa almost one in every two adults has hypertension.
What’s more alarming is that about 70% of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa with hypertension are not aware they have high blood pressure,” says Schutte, who is also the Director of the South African MRC Unit for Hypertension and CVD at the North-West University.
Hypertension is the number one cardiovascular risk factor and the world’s greatest risk factor for death and disability according to the World Health Organisation4, leading to 9·4 million (95% UI 8·6 million to 10·1 million) deaths5a. Every three seconds a person dies from hypertension’s consequences5b. In South Africa an estimated 53 men and 78 women over 30 die from the impact of hypertension every day6. Other disease complications can include heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, renal impairment, retinal hemorrhage and visual impairment.
“When one considers that a simple BP test can be instrumental in avoiding this, it clarifies the importance of collaborative awareness campaigns like this,” adds Schutte.
Explaining the contributing risk factors of the disease, Prof Brian Rayner, nephrologist and director of the Hypertension Institute at the University of Cape Town says, “Hypertension is most often caused by a combination of hereditary influences and poor lifestyle. You can do little about your parents or your age but you can live healthy. This includes exercise, reducing salt intake, following a good diet high in fruit and veg, no excessive alcohol consumption, maintaining an ideal weight, managing stress and no smoking”, says Rayner.
“Hypertension kills economically active people or disables them due to stroke, heart attack or kidney failure. This has a further financial impact on families who must provide care for their loved ones after a stroke. If you don’t have your BP measured you won’t know you have the condition until it strikes. The importance of annual BP testing cannot be stressed enough and if you have a BP higher than 140/90 immediately seek further medical intervention. Lifestyle changes should be sufficient to correct a BP of 130-140/80-90,” says Rayner.
Rayner adds that elevated BP is subject to the rule of halves. “50% of the population is unaware of their condition, 50% of those who are aware do not take treatment, and 50% of those who take treatment are not controlled, leaving only 12.5 % of the total population who are controlled.”
From this it’s clear that BP management is all about the numbers and these figures indicate that treatment goals are not being met and it’s time to retool. World Hypertension Day is celebrated on 17 May and the World Hypertension League’s theme fittingly is “Know Your Numbers”.
“Over the past two years May Measurement Month has been the largest ever synchronised screening campaign in the world of any risk factor, testing over 2.7 million people. This highlights the importance of raised blood pressure as the leading risk factor for death in the world. In 2019 we hope to reach far greater numbers,” says Schutte.
“All the information gathered from the national screenings is entered into a national database. We will use the data collected to assess and learn more about the problem of high blood pressure. All the data we collect is totally anonymous,” says Schutte. “The next important step is to use these results to ensure global and local policy changes, where governments are activated to take this risk factor seriously and ensure that the management of blood pressure is properly and systematically controlled.”
Quick and Painless Test
Usually, the healthcare professional will use an electronic device that is strapped to the upper arm. The cuff or band squeezes the arm for several seconds, cutting off blood flow, and then releasing. It’s important that some simple rules are followed when checking for hypertension: sitting calmly, feet flat on floor and not having eaten in the past hour.
As a consequence of the predicted 10% increase in BP levels between 2000 and 2025, an estimated 560-million extra people will be affected by hypertension7. South Africa has the highest rate of high blood pressure reported among people aged 50 and over for any country in the world, at any time in history, with almost 8 out of 10 people in this age group being diagnosed with high blood pressure8. “Because cardiovascular disease affects a third of adults in the world, it is the largest epidemic ever known to mankind. Don’t roll the dice with your life. Commit to having your BP checked this May Measurement Month,” concludes Schutte.
Don’t become a statistic – check your pressure this May Measurement Month. It’s free at Dis-Chem and other participating sites in May. Find one in your area. http://bit.ly/bptest2019.