Health experts have estimated that up to 80 per cent of South Africans are living with hypertension and that most of them are not even aware of it.

There has been an increase in the number of cases of hypertension or high blood pressure among younger people, including children, in South Africa, the experts say as the world commemorates World Hypertension Day on Tuesday.

The President of the South African Hypertension Society, Alta Schutte, said here Monday: “For a very good reason there are no symptoms. In most people, it’s symptomless even though the blood pressure could be extremely high.

“Some people feel some form of dizziness or headaches but generally there are no symptoms, even if you are using medication or not there are no symptoms. So you don’t know that you have hypertension, that is one of the biggest issues with hypertension globally.”

She said the society therefore strongly encouraged people to get tested and know their blood pressure numbers: “We need to measure the blood pressure on two or three occasions and if it’s at both or all these instances higher than 140/90 then someone is diagnosed with being hypertensive.”

South Africa is among the countries with the highest numbers of people living with high blood pressure and at increased risk of strokes and heart attacks.

The Dietician of the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Jessica Byrne, said: “We have studies that report prevalence of between 35 per cent and 80 per cent of people living with high blood pressure.

“Some recent research that was looking at that was looking at lower and middle income countries actually found that we have a highest prevalence of HBP, the danger with this is that HBP is really putting us at risk for heart attacks and strokes which are actually the biggest killer in our country after HIV/AIDS.”

She said while hypertension was previously associated with elderly people, there had been an increase in cases among the younger generations, including children.

“Sadly, we are also seeing children starting to be diagnosed with HBP and what’s of concern is that we have such a high prevalence of overweight and obesity in South Africa where about one in four children in South Africa are actually overweight and obese and this is really contributing to the high burden of high blood pressure that we are starting to see in children.”

She cited food sold at school canteens for children, poor diet at home, lots of salty foods, alcohol, smoking and inactivity of South Africans as the major contributors to the silent killer.

High blood pressure can be controlled by a change in lifestyle, diet and chronic medication.