Why You Should Check For High Blood Pressure, Even If You Think You’re Fine

In 2015, high blood pressure, or hypertension, caused an estimated 10.7 million deaths worldwide. Since then, its prevalence has grown from 25% to greater than 40%. Approximately 8.22 million South African adults with no private health insurance have hypertension, according to a recent study. That’s too high. Your sneaky coffee addiction and having a tipple too many could contribute to higher numbers. Here’s what to know about the risk factors, and when to worry.  

Hypertension: our silent problem  

Hypertension is known as ‘the silent killer’, because of the lack of apparent symptoms. Often, patients have no idea their blood pressure is dangerously high. That’s not all. High blood pressure can also be a precursor for dementia and cognitive decline later in life, according to the CDC. Also, hypertensive people are at a higher risk for developing kidney disease.

While the rates for men in South Africa are lower, the rates for women are worryingly high, with about 40.99% of adult women in South Africa battling high blood pressure, per the World Obesity Federation, pushing our ranking up to 23rd in the world.  

“Research suggests that cardiovascular disease causes more deaths in South Africa than all the cancers combined – a sobering statistic,” says Dr Adrian Rotunno, a Virgin Active panel expert and Sport and Exercise Medicine physician. “Many reports show that diseases of the circulatory system account for nearly a fifth of all deaths in the country, followed by what is termed “diseases of lifestyle” including diabetes mellitus (high blood sugar), hypertension (high blood pressure), hypercholesterolaemia (high blood cholesterol), and obesity.”

When to check your blood pressure

With rates this high, it’s important to keep tabs on your own number. Smartwatches can help, but they don’t always give accurate readings, so get to a clinic or a nurse and have yours checked regularly – at least once a year, if you’re over 40, and once every two years if you’re not at risk or younger than 40.

Are you at risk for high blood pressure?

There are several risk factors for high blood pressure that many of us may harbour, and be unaware of. That includes smoking (or that sneaky vaping habit), being sedentary and too much caffeine and alcohol use. Being overweight is also a risk factor.


Smoking – and even vaping – spikes your blood pressure and increases your heart rate. Whether you smoke regularly or not doesn’t matter, either. The American Heart Association found in a report that “people who used e-cigarettes and people who smoked combustible cigarettes had greater increases in blood pressure, heart rate and blood vessel constriction, immediately after vaping or smoking, compared to people who did not use any nicotine.” Smoking constricts the blood vessels, leading to higher blood pressure readings. If you vape or smoke, try find a way to quit.

Being sedentary

Per research in the journal , people the world over are moving less and less, despite clear guidelines saying that more movement is the key to mitigating chronic diseases like high blood pressure and more. What you should do? Move more and sit less, says the American Heart Association. 150 minutes of moderate activity (walks, gardening) can lower high blood pressure.   


Even drinking just a little raises your heart rate, per a study in . It found that drinking a high dose of alcohol (the equivalent of 30g or more), raised blood pressure more than 13 hours after consumption, even when it temporarily lowered the blood pressure immediately after drinking. For women, guidelines suggest no more than one drink in one sitting – any more and your BP is at risk. Moderate drinking is defined as two drinks, while more than three glasses in means you’re on a binge – and placing yourself at risk.


Go low and slow on the coffee and energy drinks. Per one study, caffeine spiked BP and this can be prolonged, over several hours. “Typically, blood pressure changes occur within 30 minutes, peak in 1-2 hours, and may persist for more than 4 hours,” the authors note. Per the NHS, try to limit yourself to less than four cups a day.

How to prevent high blood pressure

Exercise and a healthy diet are essential to preventing the onset of high blood pressure, but in some cases, seemingly healthy people can have frighteningly high numbers. That’s likely because sneaky habits could get in the way. Steer clear of any that could lead you to the ER, and adopt healthy eating habits (like going steady on salt and booze). And if you’re at risk (with any one of these habits taking over), check your blood pressure – it could save your life.  



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