/ 16 May 2011

Working too hard? Beware hypertension

May 17 is World Hypertension Day, so it's a good time to look at the effects of long working days on your health.

South African professionals work long hours, under enormous pressure, and risk developing permanently raised blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

A recent study of more than 7 000 civil servants in the United Kingdom, conducted at the University College London over a 13-year period, found that office workers who put in 11-hour days were 67% more likely to develop heart disease than those working seven- or eight-hour days.

Dr Dominique Scott, an executive at PPS, says that hypertension is a chronic disease that can be managed with medication and lifestyle changes. Early detection is obviously better for both your health and your finances, as health complications can be costly.

Because hypertension is a “silent disease” the first symptom can be a stroke. If you’re incapacitated and can’t work, this will have a dramatic impact on your household finances.

Although hypertension is most often found in people over 50, it’s also associated with family history. Go for regular screening and if you require treatment the sooner you go onto it the better.

“Left untreated, hypertension in a younger person can shorten their lifespan by up to 20 years,” Scott warns.

Graham Anderson, principal officer at Profmed Medical Scheme, says hypertension is common in the black population and is growing fast because urban blacks are adopting a Westernised lifestyle.

Kidney failure, for example, is four times higher in the black population due to hypertension. In a six-year study of patients with chronic kidney failure, hypertension was reported to be the cause of chronic kidney failure in 34,6% of blacks but only 4,3% of whites.

Try to manage your stress. Excessive amounts of adrenaline and cortisol can raise blood pressure so if you have a demanding job and a family history of hypertension, consider a lifestyle change such as regular exercise, a balanced diet.

Also make sure you have life cover in place as early as possible, as the onset of the disease usually leads to a loading of premiums or a decline in life and other risk benefits.

Hypertension causes increased mortality so it’s often strictly underwritten at application stage.

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