Learn more about high blood pressure and how to avoid this silent killer.
High blood pressure (hypertension) can cause heart disease, stroke, other cardiovascular diseases, chronic kidney disease, and dementia. Learn more about high blood pressure so that you can sidestep these fatal health problems.
How blood pressure works
The circulatory system carries blood filled with oxygen throughout the body to ensure the proper functioning of tissues and organs. The heart generates pressure that pushes blood through a network of arteries, veins and capillaries, and this pressure is known as blood pressure.
The two forces that makeup blood pressure is systolic pressure, created when the heart pumps, and diastolic pressure, created when the heart rests between beats.
You need blood pressure for blood to move around in your body but having blood pressure that is too high, can be fatal.
How does high blood pressure damage my health?
High blood pressure puts strain on the heart and blood vessels, causing tiny tears in delicate tissues inside the arteries. Bad LDL cholesterol starts forming plaque along the tears and this narrows the arteries and creates a cycle of further damage to the heart, arteries and the rest of the body, increasing the risk for conditions such as heart attack and stroke.
How is blood pressure measured?
Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mm Hg). The measurement unit, millimetre mercury (Hg), is derived from the distance that a column of mercury in the measurement instrument is pressed upward.
Researchers agree that the average blood pressure during the day should not be more than 130/80 mm Hg. You will be diagnosed with hypertension if your blood pressure is consistently above 140 systolic or 90 diastolic. The following table, published by Mediclinic, shows the normal ranges of blood pressure and the stages of hypertension for South Africans:
Systolic (mm Hg)
Diastolic (mm Hg)
120 or less
80 or less
Less than 130
Less than 80
80 – 89
Stage 1 (Mild)
140 – 159
90 – 99
Stage 2 (Moderate)
160 – 179
100 – 109
Stage 3 (Severe)
180 or higher
110 or higher
South Africans can test their blood pressure at a local pharmacy, Clicks, Dis-Chem, or a general practitioner.
You can also measure your blood pressure at home – talk to your doctor about the best self-measured blood pressure (SMBP) monitors. Alternatively, The South African Hypertension Society has more information about monitors.
High blood pressure is lethal
Mediclinic published an article stating that more than 6,2 million South Africans have blood pressure higher than 140/90 mm Hg. More than 3,2 million of these have blood pressure higher than 160/95 mm Hg, a level, which is unacceptably high, according to researchers. An estimated 53 men and 78 women die in South Africa each day from the impact of hypertension.
High blood pressure can be lethal. The condition is known as the “silent killer” as hypertension usually does not show any symptoms. The best way to prevent high blood pressure is to check your blood pressure regularly and manage risk factors within your control.
Risk factors for hypertension can be divided into three categories:
those you cannot control, such as your family health history, ethnicity, as well as your age.
those you can control, such as being overweight, not exercising, smoking, making unhealthy food choices, and using certain kinds of contraceptives and recreational drugs.
associated diseases or organ damage that can also increase your risk, such as high cholesterol, heart disease, angina, heart failure, diabetes, stroke, kidney damage, retinal damage, and damage to blood vessels.
- If you have high blood pressure, your doctor will prescribe medication. You can also manage or prevent hypertension by focusing on the risk factors within your control.
- If you struggle with obesity, talk to your doctor or dietician about the right weight loss plan for you.
- Try to exercise regularly. The American College of Cardiology and the American Heart Association advises moderate- to vigorous-intensity physical activity for 40-minute sessions, three to four times per week. If you struggle to exercise for 40 minutes, you can also do three or four workouts of 10 to 15 minutes each day. You can start small and work your way up to a 40-minute workout. Most importantly, exercise regularly.
- Quit smoking.
- Change your diet. Pay special attention to your sodium intake. In general, limit salt to 2,300 milligrams (mg) a day. However, a lower daily sodium intake of 1,500 mg or less is ideal for most adults.
- Talk to your doctor about contraceptives.
Knowing how blood pressure works and how high blood pressure affects your health is the first step in combating this “silent killer”. Check your blood pressure regularly and focus on mitigating the risk factors that are within your control.
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