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Hypertension is a silent killer that can also kill your financial wellbeing

28 June 2022 Tony Singleton, CEO of Turnberry Management Risk Solutions
Tony Singleton, CEO of Turnberry Management Risk Solutions

Tony Singleton, CEO of Turnberry Management Risk Solutions

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects an estimated 1.13 billion people worldwide – one in four men and one in five women.

It can cause a range of health problems, from heart disease and strokes, to kidney disease, and even eye disease, and can result in sudden death if left uncontrolled. It is known as the ‘silent killer’ because so many people do not realise that they have it until it is too late. The conditions and complications it causes are severe and lead to costly, life-altering medical interventions that can also ruin your financial wellbeing if you do not have appropriate medical aid and gap cover in place.

Prevention is better than cure
High blood pressure is easy to detect and, in the majority of cases, easy to control through cost effective medications. It can be quickly identified through routine blood pressure screening, so it is important to always get these checks done and to be proactive about identifying, managing and maintaining health conditions.

However, as always, prevention is better than cure. While there are certain genetic factors that can lead to or exacerbate hypertension, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is the number one way of preventing hypertension. Exercising regularly, reducing sugar, fat and alcohol consumption, reducing stress and not smoking are some of the everyday ways people can help to prevent hypertension and associated conditions.

Interestingly, the Hypertension Society of South Africa also recommends adding beetroot into the diet. Beetroots contain nitrates which the digestive system converts into nitric oxide, a compound that widens the blood vessels, which in turn lowers blood pressure.

What to look out for
The baseline for ‘normal’ blood pressure is 120 over 80, with 120 being the systolic pressure or when the heart is pumping and 80 being the diastolic pressure which is when the heart is at rest. If your blood pressure is over 140 over 90, then you need to see a healthcare practitioner immediately, and if your blood pressure is over 120/80 but below 140/90 then it is time to start taking steps to reduce it.

The challenge with hypertension is that it has nondescript symptoms that can easily – and often are – mistaken for other things, including tiredness, dizziness, headaches, nausea and vision problems. However, if left uncontrolled it can cause significant and severe health complications including heart disease, heart attacks, strokes, heart failure, peripheral arterial disease, aortic aneurysms, kidney disease, eye disease called hypertensive retinopathy and brain damage through vascular dementia.

No middle ground
When it comes to these diseases, there is not a lot of choice – they must be treated. But they are also typically extremely expensive procedures once things have progressed to this point. Although hypertension and many of the associated diseases are Prescribed Minimum Benefits (PMBs) which means they will be covered by medical schemes according to certain criteria and formularies, many members still experience massive medical expense shortfalls. We have seen shortfalls of over R100 000 for atherosclerotic heart disease and acute ischemic heart disease, and even almost R30 000 for uncontrolled hypertension on its own.

Andrew Appelgryn, a member of Turnberry gap cover since 2016 through his employer, needed a quintuple bypass following a heart attack brought on by uncontrolled hypertension. “When I started to receive the bills, I was not sure how I was going to pay for any of it. My employer then reminded me that I had gap cover and helped me to submit my claims. The shortfalls from the cardiothoracic surgeon were almost R100 000 and from the anaesthetist around R62 000, which is a huge sum that most people simply cannot afford. I would highly recommend gap cover, because without it I would have gotten my life back only to be in massive debt,” he says.

Lifechanging conditions
Quite apart from being left in debt due to medical expenses, these medical conditions are lifechanging events. A heart attack or stroke causes severe damage to an essential organ, and the recovery from open heart surgery is long and arduous. If you have a stroke, you may become paralysed. Kidney disease means dialysis for the rest of your life. It is always best to maintain a healthy lifestyle, and to take advantage of the free checks and screenings that are available so that you know what your blood pressure is.

If you are found to be hypertensive, then medication and lifestyle changes can help to prevent these catastrophic consequences. Hypertension is also on the chronic disease list, so if you are diagnosed with this problem, it must be registered with the chronic department of your medical scheme for access to a basket of care funded from the risk benefit of the medical scheme. This includes formulary medication, specific doctors’ visits and further testing to ensure that your condition is being well controlled and maintained.

Should the worst occur, however, it is always comforting to know that you have cover for medical expense shortfalls that might occur. To protect your financial wellbeing as well as your health, it is always important to talk to your financial advisor about a gap cover plan that will suit your needs.

 

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