Don’t succumb to the Silent Killer

It’s reported that close on 50% of South Africans over 15 live with hypertension – also known as the silent killer. Even more alarming is 50% are undiagnosed and untreated.

A public health campaign “Because I Say So” is calling on consumers to get a blood pressure check. This non-evasive test takes five minutes and can save your life – and it’s free during May Measure Month.

Global figures indicate that 28 000 people die every day from the consequences of high blood pressure. That’s the equivalent of 70 jumbo jets crashing and claiming the lives of all the passengers on board – making it the biggest single contributor to deaths globally, according to the World Health Organization.

“Unfortunately, these numbers are climbing,” says Professor Nash Ranjith, president of the Southern African Hypertension Society (SAHS), adding that, “A blood pressure test is the fastest way to detect and diagnose the illness, and in so doing, prevent avoidable deaths.”

May Measure Month

The global screening initiative May Measure Month was initiated in response to this health crisis. Now in its eighth year, this collaborative campaign is led by the International Society of Hypertension, the SAHS and Servier.

Prof. Ranjith explains, “Through widespread screening events, educational initiatives and advocacy efforts, the campaign strives to identify undiagnosed cases of hypertension, promote lifestyle modifications and facilitate early intervention to prevent cardiovascular complications.”

Hypertension is acknowledged as the ‘silent killer’ because it’s just that: there are no symptoms, and you don’t feel ill until you have a cardiac event like a heart attack. Even in the absence of apparent signs or symptoms of poor health, this invisible illness can, if left unchecked, result in severe heart disease, stroke and even death.

Someone’s mother, father, husband, wife or grandparent dies every three seconds from hypertension-related causesThis serves as unambiguous evidence of the alarming truth: If you don’t have your blood pressure measured, you won’t know you have the condition until it strikes.

A blood pressure reading of 120–129/70–79 is considered normal. If you have blood pressure higher than 140/90, immediately seek further medical intervention.

Other complications of the illness can include heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, kidney damage, retinal haemorrhage and visual impairment. With relatively few people making the connection between raised blood pressure and the devastating consequences of the illness, awareness levels need urgent attention to curb the exponential growth of the disease in South Africa.

South Africa’s alarming statistics

The disease is affecting more and more young adults, and South Africa’s hypertension figures support this. The country 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 pressure.

Treating high blood pressure

Prof. Erika Jones from Groote Schuur Hospital says hypertension is frequently attributed to a combination of genetic factors and unhealthy habits. “While you can’t alter your parents or your age, adopting a healthy lifestyle can make a significant difference. Lifestyle adjustments are often effective in rectifying BP levels ranging from 130–140/80–90. This involves engaging in regular exercise, moderating salt intake, adhering to a nutritious diet abundant in fruits and vegetables, limiting alcohol consumption, maintaining a healthy weight, managing stress and refraining from smoking.”

She continues, “With an elevated blood pressure diagnosis, your doctor is likely to prescribe antihypertensive medication that must be taken every day. This is the only way to ensure the treatment will effectively control blood pressure in the long term and protect against the risk of cardiovascular events.”

Compliance with medication is key

More than a third of people diagnosed and treated for hypertension stop their treatment after only six months, while 50% of people with hypertension stop their treatment completely after one year. Prof. Jones cautions that this lack of adherence prevents blood pressure from returning to normal and has very important and severe consequences, including an increased risk of a heart attack or stroke.

“For more than five decades, Servier has been dedicated to combating hypertension, recognising the ongoing challenges as the prevalence of hypertension and its repercussions continue to rise among patients,” says Servier’s Hypertension and Cardiovascular product manager, Hermien van Heerden.

“Over 11 million people succumb to this chronic illness every year; it’s the largest epidemic ever known to mankind. As non-communicable diseases like hypertension continue to rise, it clarifies the importance of collaborative public information campaigns like ‘Because I say so’ and May Measure Month. Mobilising South Africans to get their blood pressure screened has never been more important.”

South Africans are being reminded to go to their local pharmacy, clinic or doctor to get tested. Find a participating pharmacy in your area and get the test today.

Image credit: Freepik

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