by Dr Michael Mol

The hype around hypertension

What are the dangers associated with high blood pressure?

Hypertension and prehypertension
What are the dangers associated with high blood pressure?

Some time back I went to sleep with perfectly normal blood pressure, an unremarkable 120/80. The following day, I woke up in a blood pressure danger zone. What happened? My blood pressure didn't spike overnight, somebody shifted the goal posts and revised blood pressure guidelines to include a new category: prehypertension. 

Anyone with a systolic (the top number) reading of 120 or over, or a diastolic (bottom) reading of 80 or over, now has prehypertension (approx 25% of the population). No, doctors are not trying to scare us – this a serious wake-up call. People with blood pressure levels between 120/80 and 140/90 –levels once considered normal – have twice the risk of heart disease as those with low blood pressure. And people with full blown hypertension, defined as blood pressure above 140/90 (another 25% of the population) – have four times the risk of heart disease as people with low blood pressure.

Bottom line – 50% of our population fall into one or the other category, so there’s a strong possibility that you’re the one in two who do.

So what’s dangerous about high blood pressure?

It’s one of the leading causes of heart attack, heart disease, stroke, kidney failure and premature death. Together with cigarette smoking, high cholesterol and diabetes mellitus, it constitutes the so-called cardiovascular risk profile. 95% of high blood pressure (called primary or essential hypertension) has no known cause, and in the majority of instances has no symptoms either – earning itself the dubious title of “the silent killer.” So the next best bet is to be aware of the risk factors.

Risk Factors:

  • Family history of hypertension
  • Increased age (men are also more likely than women to develop High BP)
  • Obesity
  • Physical inactivity
  • Excessive alcohol consumption
  • High intake of sodium (salt) and a low intake of potassium and magnesium

Your treatment (assuming you fall into the unfortunate 50% category) will depend upon how high your blood pressure is, whether you have other medical conditions, such as diabetes, and whether any organs have already been damaged. Hypertension cannot be cured, only controlled, and as such, whether it involves medication or simply lifestyle changes – it is usually a lifelong process.

Leaving the medical treatment to your able physician, let’s briefly look at lifestyle modifications which can not only control, but also prevent developing the condition, prevention IS better than cure! This applies especially to the prehypertension crowd – who don’t require medication, yet!

Lifestyle Modifications: In order of priority

  • Maintain a normal weight, with a Body Mass Index (BMI) of 18.5 to 24.9. 
  • Follow a diet that is rich in fruits, vegetables, and low-fat dairy products, with reduced amounts of saturated and total fats.
  • Reducing sodium in your diet to an average 2.4 g per day, which is about one teaspoon of salt. 
  • Exercise, such as brisk walking, at least 30 minutes a day on most, if not all, days of the week. 
  • Limiting alcohol to no more than two drinks per day. Women and lighter-weight people should limit alcohol to half that amount. 
  • Getting 3,500g of potassium in your diet every day.

The secret here is 'lifestyle' changes, not fad diets or quick fixes, but something you can live with to help you live longer!


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Issue 16


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