As any IT exec will know, high blood pressure levels at certain times are an occupational hazard – so World Hypertension Day tomorrow (17 May) is the perfect time to remind ourselves of the importance of monitoring and managing our blood pressure.

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is the main risk factor for developing cardiovascular disease. It can cause angina (chest pain), heart attacks, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, as well as kidney damage. High blood pressure also weakens the arteries in the brain which dramatically increases our risk of having a stroke.

Our blood-pressure readings are a useful indicator of our stroke risk – and managing our blood pressure is a highly effectively way of avoiding a stroke.

“If you are over 40, or you have a risk of hypertension, you should have your blood pressure checked at least once a year,” says Dr Paul Soko, chief medical officer at Life Rehabilitation. “If you show elevated blood pressure, your doctor may prescribe medication to keep it at healthy levels.”

Dr Soko says the main risk factors for high blood pressure are a family history of the condition, being over 65 years of age, and having diabetes or kidney disease.

“Besides the non-modifiable risks, there is a lot that we can do to reduce our blood pressure and our risk of strokes and cardiovascular disease,” Dr Soko says.

He recommends the following interventions to reduce hypertension risk:

* Try to follow a diet that is low in salt and fats.

* Eat lots of fruit and vegetables.

* Stay active and try to keep your weight down.

* Don’t smoke. If you smoke, try to quit.

* Minimise your alcohol intake.

According to the World Health Organisation, more than 1-billion people around the world live with hypertension – a major cause of premature death. People in low- and middle-income countries face a disproportionate risk of hypertension and two thirds of cases occur there.

Hypertension is also becoming known as the “silent killer”. Half the people living with the condition are completely unaware that they have it, making them even more likely to suffer medical complications and death.

The key to managing our blood pressure is the lifestyle choices we make. Better decisions today will make for a healthier tomorrow. The responsible thing to do is to take ownership of our own health – for your own sake and the sake of our families. Try to stay active, eat well, and go for regular blood pressure checks, says Dr Soko.

If you have been affected by a stroke, early acute physical rehabilitation is crucial to not only to restore your health, but to mitigate the risk of long-term health complications such as spasticity.

“Acute physical rehabilitation facilities, such as the Life Rehabilitation units, offer interdisciplinary teams of doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, occupational therapists, psychologists, and speech therapists to support your recovery,” says Dr Soko. “It is possible to recover from a stroke completely, with comprehensive, goal-directed care such as what we offer at Life Rehabilitation. However, prevention is always the best approach.”