Children not immune to hypertension

Johannesburg – Several studies by the Hypertension in Africa Research Team (HART) at North-West University have found that even school children and young adults can die from hypertension.

High blood pressure is one of the major factors that contribute to cardiovascular disease and is often referred to as the “silent killer”.

HART’s African-PREDICT study has found that a high percentage of young adults demonstrated cardiovascular risk factors, namely being overweight or obese, following an unhealthy diet, having a high salt intake and low intake of fruit and vegetables, smoking and alcohol abuse.


Professor Ruan Kruger from the SARChI Research Chair in the Early Detection and Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease in Africa said the risk of having a heart attack or stroke starts when people are still at school, noting that high blood pressure can even occur at infancy.

“To keep our heart and blood vessels healthy, we should limit sweets, cookies, cake, sugary drinks and salty snacks. Instead, we can eat more fresh vegetables and meat with little fat,” said Kruger.

He added that teachers also have a huge responsibility of promoting healthy living by discouraging alcohol abuse, smoking and consumption of unhealthy food.

Professor Sanette Brits, an associate professor in physiology, said many teachers live unhealthy, stressful lives and must be encouraged to follow healthier lifestyles.

“The solution is to make simple, practical changes to their lifestyles, such as doing regular exercise, eating healthy food and even starting regular meditation sessions of 15 minutes per day,” said Brits.

She said the Department of Education should consider encouraging teachers to buy into healthier lifestyles by introducing healthy lifestyle programmes at school. Carina Mels, the director of HART, said recent research indicated that there was subtle clues in body fluids such as urine that make it possible to detect hypertension.

Explained Mels: “When you are young, your aorta is still elastic and the pulse wave takes longer to travel through the arterial tree. As you age, the aorta and other arteries in the body lose their elastic properties.

“This happens as the result of a build-up of collagen in the wall of the arteries and is known as arterial stiffness. In a stiff arterial tree, the pulse wave travels much faster, which has a negative impact on your heart.”

Dr Gontse Mokwatsi, a senior lecturer at North West University, said night-time blood pressure measurements are regarded as especially helpful as a predictor of cardiovascular outcomes in hypertensive individuals compared to daytime or clinic blood-pressure measurements.

“Introducing the use of home blood-pressure monitoring may help many patients with the management of their blood pressure,” said Mokwatsi.

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