World Hypertension Day: Test Your Blood Pressure

Hypertension is known as the ‘silent killer’ because, despite there being no signs or symptoms, it can lead to serious cardiovascular disease. A blood pressure test is the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high. In light of these facts, and in collaboration with the May Measurement Month (MMM) campaign run by the International Society of Hypertension (ISH), pharmaceutical group Servier is launching #BecauseIsayso a new worldwide campaign to raise public awareness about the importance of regular blood pressure screening.

Dr. Steven Nissen, M.D., Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at Cleveland Clinic, says the MMM-campaign, which reached around 1.2 million people in 2017, is a genuine life saver for people who don’t have access to adequate medical care. Moreover, this campaign is aimed at providing free blood pressure testing in more than 100 countries.

What is hypertension?

Hypertension is a condition in which the blood pressure in the arteries is persistently elevated. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The top number 120 is the pressure at its maximum as the heart contracts (systolic pressure), and the bottom number is the minimum as the muscle releases (diastolic pressure). High blood pressure is greater than 130/90.

Dr. Nissen says hypertension is a risk factor in several cardiovascular diseases, as well as stroke, chronic kidney disease and dementia. Yet despite its serious consequence, there are frequently no identifiable symptoms, which makes screening for hypertension essential.

According to the International Society of Hypertension, raised blood pressure is the most significant contributing risk factor for preventable deaths worldwide, costing an estimated 10 million lives each year. Yet only 46.5 percent of those people who have the condition know about it.

“Identifying hypertension can achieve very real improvements in health, because it allows us to intervene before treatment becomes costly,” says Dr. Nissen.

“Knowing this number means we can take action to prevent more serious diseases from developing. In many cases, we can do this through lifestyle changes such as improvements in diet and exercise. Particularly for people with limited access to medical care, a blood pressure test can save a life.”

Risk factors

“Risk factors for hypertension are a family history of hypertension, diabetes or stroke; obesity; African ethnicity; sedentary lifestyle; diabetes; high BP in pregnancy; and a poor diet with excess alcohol, sugar and salt,” says Professor Bryan Rayner, nephrologist and director of the Hypertension Institute at the University of Cape Town. “High BP generally causes no symptoms before it strikes unexpectedly. But the very good news is that medication, combined with a healthy lifestyle, can prevent complications.”

Moreover, hypertension is one the leading risk factors for heart disease and stroke. Other complications can include heart failure, peripheral vascular disease, renal impairment, retinal haemorrhage and visual impairment. Hypertension is the leading cause of mortality, with an estimated 1.2 billion sufferers globally. In South Africa, more than 1 in 3 adults live with high blood pressure and it is responsible for 1 in every 2 strokes and 2 in every 5 heart attacks.

“No one is immune to hypertension – black or white, male or female, rich or poor, old or young, overweight or thin, fit or unfit – and it is essential that everyone has their BP screened regularly especially if you have risk factors for hypertension,” says Rayner. “If your BP is greater than 140/90, further evaluation is required by a health professional. If your BP is between 130-140/80-90, implement lifestyle changes as you are at risk for hypertension.”

“We often say that knowing your numbers – a few basic measurements that can serve as indicators of heart health – is the key to prevention or early treatment for heart and vascular problems,” explains Dr. Nissen. “That is particularly true for those who would not be able to access treatment for more serious heart disorders. Blood pressure screening should be part of routine health checks available to everyone, to reduce the burden of disease on individuals and communities.”

Blood pressure checks – special events

The World Hypertension League (WHL) is also celebrating World Hypertension Day on 17 May 2018. The theme is ‘Know Your Numbers’ with the goal of increasing high blood pressure awareness in all populations around the world. In addition, May Measurement Month (MMM) is a global awareness campaign run by the ISH to highlight the importance of screening for raised blood pressure.

“High BP is subject to the rule of halves,” says Rayner. “50% of the population are unaware of their condition, 50% of those who are aware do not take treatment, and 50% of those who take treatment are not controlled, leaving only 12.5 % of the total population who are controlled. That’s why awareness campaigns are essential to improve the health of all South Africans. In the US these awareness campaigns have been highly successful, resulting in significant reductions in stroke and heart disease over the last 10 to 20 years.”

#BecauseIsayso – Hypertension Campaign

Blood pressure screening empowers people to know where they stand and allows them to manage their blood pressure to reduce their risk of a cardiovascular  event. The purpose of the new international awareness campaign “Because I Say So”, is to put this disease back in the spotlight because talking about it to friends or family can make a difference in their lives.

It’s quick and easy

Having a blood pressure check is quick, simple and non-invasive. Usually, the healthcare professional will use an electronic device that is strapped to the upper arm. The cuff or band squeezes the arm for several seconds, cutting off blood flow, and then releases. It is important that some simple rules are followed when checking for hypertension: sitting calmly, feet flat on floor, back supported and not having eaten (or smoked) in the past hour.

Ask your healthcare professional for more information about the disease and how to get your blood pressure checked. Click here to find out more about when to worry. 

1 Comment

  1. Lois Carol Wessels
    17 May 2018 at 12:08 pm

    Fortunately my blood pressure is perfectly normal and has been so for many years (occasionally it veers a little lower, but never higher)