Hypertension – or persistently high blood pressure – is often referred to as a “silent killer”. It presents with little to no symptoms and affects more and more young people being affected. But what exactly is it, and how do you know if you’re in danger?
What is blood pressure?
The term refers to the pressure within your blood vessels. It’s generated by the pumping action of your heart and counteracted by the resistance of the smaller arterial vessels. Blood pressure is essential to life, as it keeps your blood flowing, delivering oxygen and vital nutrients to your organs. High blood pressure, however, “increases the force of the blood against the artery walls, and over time can damage your arteries, resulting in loss of elasticity and hardening, which puts extra stress on your heart,” warns Jessica Byrne of the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA). “In the long term, hypertension can affect your organs, resulting in heart disease, stroke, blindness and kidney failure.”
Get yours checked now – it’s simple!
Considering its high prevalence and that it’s the single most important risk factor for cardiovascular disease worldwide (causing four in 10 heart attacks and more than half of stroke incidence), the HSFSA recommends that you have your blood pressure checked annually from age 20. It’s a simple and painless procedure that is done with a blood pressure gauge or sphygmometer, which consists of an inflatable cuff that restricts the blood flow and a mercury or mechanical manometer that measures the pressure.
“Your blood pressure is read in a systolic and diastolic measurement – this represents the blood pressure in your arteries during the contraction and relaxation of your heart, respectively,” explains Byrne. “An ideal blood pressure is 120/80mmHg. It can be a little higher or a little lower than this and still be considered healthy.” Hypertension is diagnosed when blood pressure is consistently above 140 systolic or 90 diastolic, says Byrne. “Blood pressure over 130/85 is referred to as pre-hypertension and in this case, your physician would make a clinical decision regarding treatment.” In patients with other risk factors, such as diabetes or heart disease, blood pressure needs to be controlled below 130/85mmHg. Follow-up blood pressure checks are advised every three months after diagnosis.
The earlier hypertension is diagnosed, the earlier it can be managed with medication and lifestyle adaptations such as dietary changes, weight loss, stopping smoking and eating less salt.