World Hypertension Day – know your numbers


World Hypertension Day is marked this week with the theme this year being “Know your Numbers”.

The Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA) together with the national Department of Health are challenging everyone to know their blood pressure. The HSFSA is joining forces with the World Hypertension League to test more than 3 million people’s blood pressures globally during the week of Tuesday May 17 (World Hypertension Day) to Tuesday May 24.

Hypertension, more commonly known as high blood pressure, is the most common chronic ailment of our generation. An ideal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg and is easily tested with a blood pressure cuff.

The World Health Organisation rates blood pressure as the leading risk factor for global mortality and disability, which is no surprise given that roughly one in four adults globally suffer from it. Uncontrolled blood pressures cause strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, dementia, kidney failure and blindness.

The picture is much worse in South Africa where studies report prevalence figures between 35% and 80%, depending on age group.

A study in March this year reported hypertension in 55% of participants aged between 35 and 74 years in four rural South African communities. This was the highest prevalence recorded among the nine lower-middle income countries studied across Asia, Latin America and Africa. Another recent study in October last year reported a prevalence of 41% in 1 000 adults with a mean age of only 44 years in Limpopo.

In many ways South Africa is experiencing a perfect storm of hypertension. Our unique risk profile includes increasingly “Western” eating habits, decreasing levels of activity, low levels of diagnosis and treatment of hypertension, prevalent alcohol abuse, increasing obesity, malnutrition predisposing children to chronic diseases later in life, and genetic predisposition to high blood pressure. This is well illustrated by a recent survey among students at Walter Sisulu University. Despite a mean age of only 22 years, 40% of students already had pre-hypertension, and 6% were classified as hypertensive4. This highlights the fact that high blood pressure is starting at a younger age.

The impact of high blood pressure in South Africa is staggering: blood pressure is responsible for half of all strokes, 40% of heart attacks and 60% of kidney disease.

How can we beat high blood pressure?

In most cases high blood pressure can be effectively controlled by a combination of lifestyle changes and medication. The problem is that, although hypertension is so prevalent, the portion of people who have been diagnosed is far less. In South Africa, only 50% of people with hypertension know that their blood pressure is high. This is partly because there are usually no symptoms and individuals don’t have their blood pressure checked on a regular basis.

Uncontrolled blood pressure results in strokes, heart failure, heart attacks, and kidney failure.

“We have to address blood pressure from the top down, starting with improved diagnosis in people unknowingly suffering from this silent disease. This is what World Hypertension day is all about”, says Dr Vash Mungal-Singh, chief executive officer of HSFSA.

The National Department of Health is increasing efforts to screen and treat lifestyle diseases like high blood pressure and diabetes. Together with the department, HSFSA hopes to encourage everyone to “know their numbers” and have a blood pressure screening at least once a year.

Professor Melvyn Freeman, chief director, Non-communicable Diseases, national De-partment of Health says: “South Africans, old and young, need to know their blood pressure. We would like to invite all individuals over 18 years to go to their nearest clinic and have their blood pressure tested.”

Members of the public can also head to their doctors or pharmacies to have their blood pressure tested.

The HSFSA will be hosting free blood pressure screenings – details are available on their website at

* For details contact HSFSA on 021 422 1586.