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Hypertension: spot the symptoms

Hypertension (consistently high blood pressure) is more common today than ever before… but how do you know if you have it? A Mediclinic doctor talks us through the signs – and treatment – of this silent killer.

A normal adult should have a blood pressure reading of 120/80 mm Hg. At least, that’s the simple way of saying it. The more complicated reality is that your blood pressure rises and falls with every heartbeat, changing from minute to minute as you adjust your posture, as you exercise, as you sleep or as you stress about the report you have due before close of business today. That’s normal.

But high blood pressure, which persists for a long period of time, is not normal. That’s when it becomes hypertension – and that’s potentially fatal. ‘Hypertension is usually chronic, but some people can have hypertension due to stress, infection or mental stress,’ says Dr Rolf Verster, a general practitioner (GP) at Mediclinic Sandton.

‘Hypertension is a silent killer,’ says Dr Verster. ‘Most people don’t have any symptoms at all for hypertension. However, some people can feel fatigue or get chronic headaches. In the most severe cases, people can suffer stroke or have heart attacks from it. Often, that is the first thing that presents.’

The good news is that high blood pressure can be easily detected – and once you know you have it, you can work with your GP to control it. So how do you detect hypertension?

‘Have your blood pressure checked,’ says Dr Verster. ‘It’s as simple as that. You can go to a pharmacy or go to a doctor, and ask them to check your blood pressure. If the blood pressure is high, then it’s quite simple: your doctor diagnoses it and investigates to see if there are any treatable causes. If there aren’t, we would postulate that it is essential hypertension, which is high blood pressure without one specific cause.’

Identifying the problem is just the first step, though. ‘Once you’ve diagnosed it, we have to treat it,’ says Dr Verster. ‘The sooner you treat high blood pressure, the better. And normally, if it is hypertension, then there needs to be regular blood pressure monitoring going forward.’

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic and ER24 cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.