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Regular health checks can save you from hypertension, ‘the silent killer’

Most people with high blood pressure don’t have symptoms, yet it’s responsible for half of all strokes and 40% of heart attacks, says Discovery Health

29 June 2022 - 14:50
Regular screening and healthy living are lifesaving.
Regular screening and healthy living are lifesaving.
Image: Supplied/Discovery Health

When a Discovery Vitality health check done in early 2021 showed blood pressure readings that were higher than normal, 38-year-old Nikash Bagirathi got proactive and went to see his GP. 

Nikash was shocked to be diagnosed with hypertension (persistent, elevated blood pressure). “I took comfort in knowing I was with the right doctor and on the right medicine. Many people have chronic conditions that are well managed, and they are fine. I encourage people to make time and book a simple blood pressure check with a nurse or GP. The Test is cheap, non-invasive and takes less than a minute. Plus, it can save your life,” he says. 

Most people who have hypertension don't have any symptoms

Hypertension is a major risk factor for heart diseases, strokes, kidney disease and even eye diseases. Most people don't have any symptoms. That’s why hypertension is called a ‘silent killer,” says Dr Noluthando Nematswerani, head of the centre for clinical excellence at Discovery Health. 

She says those who have symptoms may experience headaches, shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, heart palpitations and nose bleeds.

Regular health checks are the only way to know if we are really healthy. High blood pressure develops over years with constant damage to the blood vessels which eventually results in a stroke or heart attack or being diagnosed with a serious illness such as kidney disease. Regular health screenings are the only way to make sure we catch the onset of life-threatening chronic illnesses as early as possible.” 

Billions of people have hypertension

World Health Organisation data shows that about 1.28-billion adults aged 30-79 years have hypertension, with two-thirds living in low- and middle-income countries. Half (46%) are unaware they have the condition.

The Heart & Stroke Foundation of SA says more than a third of adults in SA live with high blood pressure — responsible for half of all strokes and 40% of heart attacks.

Discovery Life’s 2021 claims data show that outside Covid-19 (54% of claims), male clients are most likely to die from heart and artery conditions (13% of claims) and cancer (11% of claims). When it comes to severe illness claims, cancer (33% of claims) and heart and artery conditions (30%) mostly affect men.

“Every year, the number of Discovery Health Medical Scheme members diagnosed with hypertension increases,” says Nematswerani. 

In 2019, 377,784 members were registered for this condition. By 2021, there were 405,000 registered members, an increase of 27,216 people over two years. Last year, Discovery Health Medical Scheme claims related to heart disease and circulatory condition treatment amounted to R6.1bn, a 7% increase on claims paid out in 2020. 

Here’s how to deal with the lifestyle habits that are putting you at risk of high blood pressure: 

  1. Age: Risk increases as you age. Keep up regular health screening checks.
  2. Race: Risk is higher in people of African heritage, often developing at an earlier age than it does in Caucasian people. Keep up regular health screening checks.
  3. Being overweight or obese: Stay at a healthy weight.
  4. Physical inactivity: Exercise regularly, aiming for a minimum average of 20-30 minutes a day.
  5. High stress levels: Find healthy ways to relax and consciously deal with stress.
  6. Smoking: Not only does smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raise your blood pressure, but the chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of your artery walls. 
  7. Excessive alcohol intake: Having more than two drinks a day ups risk. Avoid excessive alcohol.
  8. Making unhealthy food choices: Eat plenty of low glycaemic index (GI) fruits and vegetables. Reduce caffeine, salt, fat and sugar intake.
  9. Certain chronic conditions (such as kidney disease, diabetes and sleep apnoea) up your risk. Live healthily and screen regularly. Follow your doctor’s advice and take your medicine as prescribed.

Understand your blood pressure numbers

Blood pressure can be checked quickly and easily by a GP or nurse, at a pharmacy or clinic. A sphygmomanometer (device with a cuff) is placed around the upper arm. The cuff gets tighter as it is inflated to give the blood pressure reading.

The measurement is recorded as two numbers, one “over” another, for example 120/80 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) — “120 over 80”. The top number, systolic pressure, is the pressure in your arteries when your heart contracts. The bottom, diastolic pressure, is the pressure when your heart is resting between beats — this is when pressure is at its lowest. 

A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80mmHg and below. Hypertension is usually defined as when either number (or both numbers) are equal to or above 140/90mmHg, when measured on two different days. You need emergency medical care if your blood pressure measurement is 180/120mmHg or higher.

If hypertension is picked up early enough, it is relatively easy to manage. This is why Discovery Health encourages everyone to go for general health screenings at least once a year, where blood pressure measurements and other important, simple and quick tests will be done. Check your blood pressure any time you see a doctor or nurse. Don’t miss those opportunities for a quick check.

This article is sponsored, written and provided by Discovery Health (Pty) Ltd, registration number 1997/013480/07, an authorised financial services provider and administrator of medical schemes. Discovery Health Medical Scheme is administered by Discovery Health.

This article was paid for by Discovery Health.