“I WAS having pain down my arm. I didn’t think it was anything serious a few days later when the pain moved to my chest.”

After visiting a doctor, Daniel, not his real name, discovered he was on the verge of a massive heart attack because of his high blood pressure, which was 162 over 91 at rest.

“I was told that it was serious, and when they did an ECG and a few other tests, I found out I was at serious risk of a heart attack. Until that day, I didn’t even know I had high blood pressure,” he said.

As the world marks World Hypertension Day today, South Africans were encouraged to check their blood pressure, cholesterol and blood glucose levels.

According to the Heart and Stroke Foundation South Africa (HSFSA), high blood pressure, also known a hypertension, is one of the most common risk factors for a stroke, heart attack and kidney disease among the country’s population.

With about 25% of adults being hypertensive, HSFSA board member Dr Krisela Steyn said this carried an increased risk for these people to suffer a stroke or heart attack.

“The unfortunate consequence of this statistic is that many strokes and heart attacks could be prevented if the undiagnosed and uncontrolled hypertensive South Africans were identified and provided with the necessary blood pressure-lowering medication.

“Such lifelong medication, if taken by sufficient numbers of people with hypertension, will reduce the number of people suffering a stroke or heart attack,” Steyn said.

Statistics showed that one in three South Africans, 15 years and older, suffer from stage 1 hypertension, with the highest rate of high blood pressure reported among people aged 50 and over for any country in the world.

Almost eight out of 10 people in this age group were being diagnosed with state 2 high blood pressure, and a shocking one in 10 children are already suffering from high blood pressure.

But the HSFSA said if blood pressure fell in the pre-hypertensive category, which was between 120 and 139 over 85-89, it provided an opportunity to improve blood pressure by making lifestyle changes before it progressed to hypertension.

The Life Healthcare group added that with 6.3million people living with high blood pressure, South Africa had one of the highest rates of hypertension worldwide.

At least 130 heart attacks and 240 strokes occurred daily in the country, which meant that 10 people would suffer a stroke and five people would have a heart attack every hour.

“Fortunately, high blood pressure can be easily detected. And once you know you have high blood pressure, you can work with your doctor to control it,” said Dr Vinod Thomas, cardiologist and cardiac electrophysiologist at Life Vincent Pallotti Hospital in Cape Town.

“Ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading at least every two years, starting at age 18. If you’re younger with a high risk of high blood pressure, or older than 40, measure it at least once yearly,” he advises.

Delving into the factors that could have led to his hypertension, Daniel said his grandmother had suffered from it, “but my parents both had normal blood pressure”.

“I was not as physically active as I should have been and I was under a lot of stress at work, which may have triggered the condition because I was genetically predisposed,” he said.

After changing his diet, getting into a healthy regime, having regular check-ups and taking blood pressure medication, Daniel’s blood pressure is now 125 over 83. “I encourage all South Africans to have regular blood pressure checks - it may just save your life,” he said.

The Star