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September is National Heart Awareness Month, culminating in World Heart Day on 29 September 2017. To mark the occasion, organisations around the world are urging ordinary people everywhere to be more aware of the risks associated with hypertension and heart disease, and to take simple steps to improve the health of their hearts.
“Hypertension – or high blood pressure – has become a leading cause of preventable death around the world,” says Dr. Thomas Kowallik, CEO and Country President of Novartis South Africa. “Globally, there has been a 67% increase in the incidence of hypertension between 1990 and 2010 alone, with lifestyle issues such as high dietary sodium, obesity, low dietary potassium and low levels of physical activity major contributing causes of this increase.”
With around 13% of deaths caused by high blood pressure, 40% of deaths in people with diabetes caused by high blood pressure and 50% of heart disease stroke and heart failure caused by high blood pressure, hypertension is estimated to cause 500,000 deaths and 10 million years of life lost in Africa alone each year.
It is estimated that up to 46% of all adults aged 25 or older have elevated blood pressure across Africa2, with between 40% and 50% of South African adults at risk.
“This National Heart Awareness Month, Novartis is focusing on the fact that hypertension is largely preventable,” says Kowallik. “There are a number of simple steps everyone can take to reduce their risk of developing hypertension, and help bring existing hypertension under control.” In fact, Kowallik notes that in high income countries, widespread diagnosis and treatment with cost-effective medication has led to a drop in the proportion of people with raised blood pressure in recent years. The WHO reports that the prevalence of raised blood pressure in the WHO region of the Americas in 2014 was 18%, as compared to 31% in 1980; while in contrast, low-income countries have the highest prevalence of raised blood pressure. In the WHO African region, more than 30% of adults in many countries are estimated to have high blood pressure and this proportion is increasing. 
Novartis says the first step in preventing and controlling hypertension and improving heart health is to understand what healthy blood pressure levels should be. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), ‘normal adult blood pressure is defined as a blood pressure of 120 mm Hg when the heart beats (systolic) and a blood pressure of 80 mm Hg when the heart relaxes (diastolic). When systolic blood pressure is equal to or above 140 mm Hg and/or a diastolic blood pressure equal to or above 90 mm Hg the blood pressure is considered to be raised or high’.3 Unfortunately, high blood pressure often has no symptoms4 making it important to ‘know your numbers’, says the WHO.
The steps recommended to prevent, manage and control hypertension1 include:
· Eat a healthy diet, including plenty of fruits, vegetables, grains and water; and reduce your intake of processed foods, sodium, sugary drinks and alcohol.
· Be more physically active. The WHO recommends at least 30 minutes of physical activity per day.
· Maintain a healthy body weight. According to the WHO, every 5kg of excess weight lost can reduce systolic blood pressure by between 2 and 10 points.3
· Avoid smoking and tobacco products. The WHO says the risk of heart attack and stroke starts to drop immediately after a person stops using tobacco products, and can drop by as much as half after one year.
· Manage stress in healthy ways.
·Get your blood pressure checked regularly, and carefully follow any treatment regimen prescribed by your health professional.