Young people and high blood pressure in South Africa

At the heart of the world’s mortality rate, high blood pressure reels a worrying trend not only among the elderly, as it is often assumed, but shockingly, research suggests that there has been an increase among children, adolescents and young adults. While the globe marked World Hypertension Day, 17 May 2017 under the theme ‘’Know your numbers,’’ it is with sadness that in developing countries and low-income areas the rate among the youth is swelling.

Hypertension, according to the World Health Organisation is an increase in blood pressure, wherein the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure, putting them under increased stress. Each time the heart beats; it pumps blood into the vessels, which carry the blood throughout the body. Blood pressure is created by the force of blood pushing against the walls of blood vessels (arteries) as it is pumped by the heart. The higher the pressure, the harder the heart has to pump.

The normal blood pressure of an adult is 120/80 mmHg and anything higher than that will certainly lead to the early stages of hypertension. Although, it must be noted that low blood pressure (hypotension) can alter dire consequences for one,  which may result in life-threatening conditions such as a weak and rapid pulse, rapid and shallow breathing, cold, and clammy. Read more about low blood pressure here.

South Africa is among the world’s most affected countries by hypertension placed fifth (5), making it the second most affected in Africa just below Botswana according to World Health Rankings.  Much of this is directly linked to social and behavioral factors. These contributing factors have adverse effects and encourage the rapid rise of hypertension among the youth. More than 90% of youths who are hypertensive suffer from primary hypertension,  a condition that is genetically connected and as a result of unhealthy diet, overweight and stress.

Much of the aforementioned have become too familiar in South African, wherewith studies warn of a rising number of obese children who in most cases grow to be hypertensive. Although government’s intervention is heading in the right direction, thus the legislation of salt on informing that diets must not exceed 5 grams of salt intake per day. However, consumer behavior, change in societies and the culture of modernization are not all too easy on the situation. Socio-patterns such as alcohol abuse, smoking,  lack of physical exercise and poor diet are among the risk factors for the development of hypertension.

While South Africa is leading the fight among low-income countries to reduce salt intake, it is inevitable and frankly saddening that in a country where the gap between the rich and the poor is big, and where the rate of unemployment among the youth is widening, such a challenge is far too unsettling. Yet, we need to acknowledge interventions and the great work that is done by government, organizations, institutions, health professions and campaigners in addressing and educating people about hypertension and its link to heart diseases and stroke. Moreover, efforts, although they need to be backed with efficient health services, on health awareness and health education need to take center stage from both government and civil society.

 

By: Muzikayise Mike Maseko

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