High Blood Pressure in the Pacific

Author: Jordan Alphonse

The human heart is an organ that transports oxygen and other nutrients throughout the rest of the body and removes carbon dioxide and other wastes through blood vessels [1]. Blood vessels are a series of tubes that carry blood to and from the heart [2]. There are two types of blood vessels; the arteries and veins [2]. The arteries carry oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the body while the veins carry blood which has delivered its oxygen back to the heart [2]. When blood vessels carry blood, there is blood pressure applied to the walls of the vessel [3]. The blood pressure in veins is much lower than that in arteries thus the veins have thinner muscular walls than arteries [4]. Therefore, blood pressure is measured as the force of blood in arteries as the blood moves around the body [2]. High blood pressure is a condition where blood pressure in the arteries is consistently higher than it should be [2, 4]. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg) and recorded as two numbers that represent two different pressure from heart when pumping blood [2, 4]. For instance, a value such as 112/78 mmHg is read as 112 over 78 [3]. The top number represents the systolic pressure that is the measure when the heart beats [2, 4]. Whereas, the bottom number indicates the diastolic pressure which is the measure when the heart rest between beats [2, 4]. The normal blood pressure is indicated as a blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg, with the systolic pressure of 120 and the diastolic pressure of 80 [5]. Hypertension is signaled when the systolic blood pressure is equal to or above 140 mmHg and a diastolic blood pressure equal to or above 90 mmHg [5].

High blood pressure is a serious form of non-communicable disease in the Pacific Islands [6]. In many parts of the Pacific region, the prevalence is as high as 60% of the adult population [6]. The high rate of hypertension in the Pacific region is mainly due to the type of food consumed by the people [7]. More specifically the consumption of salt over its recommended amount of intake [7]. The World Health Organization (WHO) recommends that adults consume less than 5g (just under a teaspoon) of salt per day [8]. The recommendation for children (6 years old and below) is to consume no more than 3g per day [8, 9]. Astonishingly, salt has been traditionally consumed in most of the Pacific Island countries for a long time but has not been a major factor to high blood pressure as is the case today [10, 11]. Traditionally, in PNG, salt is not only used for flavoring food but for food preservation, medicine and other sacred activities [11]. Today, salt is consumed in almost all aspect of diet [6]. Most commonly, the type of food high in salt consumed by Pacific Islanders are processed food such as sausages, snack foods, canned meat and instant noodles [6]. These processed food has replaced the traditional balanced meal that most Pacific Island countries normally part take in and has resulted in the increase in high blood pressure prevalence [7]. Other factors that may result in high blood pressure are cigarette smoking, high alcohol consumption, diabetes, obese or overweight, family history, race, age and gender [3].

It is quite difficult to know if someone has high blood pressure because there are no obvious symptoms [2]. It can take years or decades to reach severe hypertension, which may show signs such as headaches, difficulty breathing, nosebleeds, flushing, dizziness, chest pain, visual changes and blood in the urine [12]. These symptoms require immediate medical attention and may result in death if not treated quickly [12]. The only way for a person to be aware of whether he or she has hypertension or not is for regular blood pressure checks with health care provider [3].

Hypertension can lead to serious damage to blood vessels and the heart [5]. The risk of problems arising from high blood pressure are; stroke, aneurysm, heart failure, heart attack, and chronic kidney disease [13]. Rose Aynsley [6] reported on a case in Tonga relating to hypertension and mentioned, “When Sione was taken to Vaiola Hospital in Tonga, the victim of a stroke, his whole family was shocked – he is only 39 years old. His doctor explained that the stroke was likely caused by his high blood pressure which is fueled by consuming too much salt”.

High blood pressure can be prevented by reducing the high intake of salt daily [3]. Rose Aynsley [6] also stated that, “As Sione’s family tries to reduce its salt intake, they have found this is not so easy – salt is ‘hidden’ in many products consumed on a regular basis”. Salt can be reduced by controlling the amount of salt added to food and the level of salt intake through consumption of processed food [6]. Other actions to take to prevent or reduce high blood pressure is to lose weight if overweight, having healthy diet daily, exercise daily, abstain or quit smoking and not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week [2]. For those who are diagnosed with high blood pressure will be prescribed the appropriate medication and should practice corrective actions as mentioned to bring their blood pressure to normal [2,3].

Therefore, high blood pressure is a real killer in the Pacific Islands and creeps around the type of food people consume. The over-consumption of salt is the leading cause of hypertension in the Pacific. Pacific Islanders are now consuming high level of salt through consumption of processed food on a daily basis. The way forward to reduce this high hypertension prevalence in the Pacific is to make people aware and be informed of how dangerous salt can be when consumed over its limit frequently. The society should be informed on making correct decisions in preventing and curing high blood pressure.


1. Lewis T. Human Heart: Anatomy, Function & Facts [Homepage on the internet] New York: c2020 Future US Inc. [Updated 22 March 2016, cited 29/10/2020] Available from

2. Chest Heart & Stroke Scotland (CHSS), Living with High Blood Pressure. Edinburgh, UK: CHSS; 2018

3. American Heart Association. What is high blood pressure? [Homepage on the internet] c2020 American Heart Association Inc. Available from

4. Gupta J.I, Shea M.J, Biology of the Blood Vessels [Homepage on the internet] Kenilworth, USA: c2020 Merck Sharp & Dhome Corp, [Updated on April 2019, cited on 29/10/2020]. Available from

5. World Health Organization (WHO). Hypertension [Homepage on the internet] c2020 WHO, [Updated on 13 September 2019, cited on 29/10/2020. Available from

6. Aynsley R, Salt – the hidden danger in the Pacific [Homepage on the internet] Tonga: c2020 WHO, [Updated on 1 November 2014, cited on 29/10/2020]. Available from,60%25%20of%20the%20adult%20population

7. World Health Organization (WHO). Pacific islanders pay heavy price for abandoning traditional diet [Homepage on the internet] c2020 WHO, [Updated on July 2010, cited on 29/10/2020]. Available from

8. World Health Organization (WHO). Salt reduction [Homepage on the internet] c2020 WHO, [Updated on 29 April 2020, cited on 29/10/2020].

Available from,relative%20to%20those%20of%20adults.

9. NHS. Salt: the facts [Homepage on the internet] c2020 Crown, [Updated on 10 February 2018, cited on 29/10/2020]. Available from,)%20%E2%80%93%20that's%20around%201%20teaspoon.&text=Children%20aged%3A,a%20day%20(1.2g%20sodium)

10. Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), Traditional Ways of Knowing: Salt Harvesting [Homepage on the internet] c2020 University of Hawaii, [Cited on 29/10/2020]. Available from

11. Gopalakrishnan J, Salt tradition as a rich culture in Papua New Guinea: past, present and future [Homepage on the internet] Puerto Varas, Chile: c2008-2020 ResearchGate GmbH, [Updated on September 2014, cited on 29/10/2020]. Available from,diseases%2C%20witchcraft%20activities%2C%20etc.

12. Holland K, Everything you need to know about high blood pressure [Homepage on the internet] c2005-2020 Healthline Media a Red Ventures Company, [Updated on 17 June 2020; cited on 29/10/2020]. Available from

13. Bakris G.L, High Blood Pressure [Homepage on the internet] Kenilworth, USA: c2020 Merck Sharp & Dohme Corp, [Updated on Oct 2019; cited on 29/10/2020]. Available from:


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