A GROWING number of younger Africans have elevated blood pressure. According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation of SA, 46% of women and 44% of men – aged 15 years and older – have high blood pressure or hypertension. This makes them vulnerable to strokes or heart disease.
High blood pressure is responsible for one in two strokes, and two in five heart attacks in South Africa. Salt Awareness Week, marked from March 4 to 10, the POST spoke to doctors about the concern. Salt Week aims to raise awareness and educate the public on the damage salt can cause to one’s health.
Dr. Karuna Ramkissoon, a general practitioner in Chatsworth, said in her experience – and the feeling among peers – was that high blood pressure was a growing concern in the Indian community.
“The causes are multifaceted. A poor diet, stress and a lack of exercise are among the main reasons. Stress is number one on the list.”
She said people worked far from home and experienced the stress of travelling in traffic, and there was also stress in the workplace itself.
“Due to the constant demands to keep up, many patients are overworked in environments where there are staff cutbacks, retrenchments and the like.
“The workload grows on the few left behind. Many patients have the daily stress of going to work with the uncertainty of whether or not they will have a job tomorrow, and that is largely due to the economic situation in the country.”
There is also the problem of existing illnesses, for example, diabetes, that patients are not controlling.
“Sugar and blood pressure conditions cause a hormonal response in the body. The natural response of the body is to make you aware that something is wrong, and that’s when things go up, like blood pressure, as a warning sign. If you don’t see a doctor immediately, you then end up with complications of the condition.”
How families eat today is also a factor.
“Fast food is a problem. These foods are already high in sodium, so we put ourselves at risk. More families are eating take-out and at restaurants more often than usual these days.”
Ramkissoon said a lot of young women in the community were also presenting with polycystic ovarian syndrome, a hormonal disorder that caused enlarged ovaries with small cysts on the outer edges.
“This is mainly weight-related in many cases. This can lead to complications like diabetes and high blood pressure. So it is important to get diet, exercise and stress levels under control.”
Dr. Richard Foster, a GP practicing at Medicross Pinetown, said previously high blood pressure was a problem largely associated with middle-aged people. He said he experienced an increase in those aged 30years and older requiring counselling and medication to deal with the problem.
“There is no single cause for this, but there appears to be a preference for convenience foods and fast foods, which often contain a lot of salt.
“There is also a more sedentary lifestyle these days, because walking as an exercise has been largely replaced by vehicle transport. Many young people also often prefer less physically active indoor activities.”
He said the symptoms of hypertension were subtle but included light-headedness and vague headaches.
According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation, while our bodies need salt to survive, it is only required in small amounts. Excessive salt intake is associated with high blood pressure.
Foster said while our bodies required salt for regular functions, it did have the potential to cause the retention of fluids.
“Salt is naturally present in our foods, but it is often added to convenience foods to make them more palatable. Eating such foods may potentially lead to excess fluid retention, which manifests as increased blood pressure.
“Besides the sedentary lifestyles, poor food choices and excess salt, the other concern is obesity. Losing weight would usually result in a reduction of blood pressure.”