The number of people living with hypertension has doubled globally in the past 30 years, according to the latest Lancet study. This makes it extremely important for diagnosis, treatment and control of the ailment to catch up with best practices, it added.
Over a 30-year-period, in India specifically, the percentage of adults (30-79 years) living with hypertension rose from 25.52 per cent in 1990 to 30.59 per cent in 2019 in men and from 26.53 per cent to 29.54 per cent in women, as per the report.
“The Lancet data is a matter of concern as the figures are harrowing and need immediate attention. One should be watchful as high blood pressure can lead to serious complications such as heart failure, heart attack, stroke, trouble with memory and understanding,” said Dr Narayan Gadkar, consultant cardiologist, Zen Multispeciality Hospital, Chembur.
The study also noted that as a leading cause of stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease, high blood pressure is linked to more than 8.5 million deaths worldwide each year.
Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, occurs when the blood vessels have persistently raised pressure. Per the study, hypertension was defined as having “systolic blood pressure 140 mm Hg or greater, diastolic blood pressure 90 mm Hg or greater, or taking medication for hypertension.”
Stressing it to be a risk factor for cardiovascular events, Dr Bipeenchandra Bhamre, cardio-thoracic surgeon, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre described that in the condition, the heart has to work hard to circulate blood in our arteries. “For heart, high blood pressure works like carrying heavyweight. Unmanaged hypertension for a long duration leads to extra pressure on the walls of the arteries,” he noted.
The Associated Chambers of Commerce and Industry of India (ASSOCHAM), as part of its ‘Illness to Wellness’ campaign, also stated that hypertension has the “highest comorbidity with almost all NCDs”. This is followed by diabetes, kidney, and digestive disorders in their relative simultaneous occurrence in morbidity, it noted in the primary healthcare survey report in July 2021 on the rising burden of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) in the country.
The report titled Non-Communicable Diseases in India covered 2,33,672 people and 673 public health offices in 21 states, to analyse the rising cases of NCDs in the country and the social profile of suffering households.
What are the leading causes?
Experts blame sedentary lifestyle, as well as increase in salt intake, among other causes. “Age, family history, being obese or overweight, using tobacco, lack of physical activity, too much sodium, and less potassium in the diet can invite it,” said Dr Gadkar.
What are the symptoms?
Dr Gadkar explained that if one notices shortness of breath or nose bleeds, then it is imperative to consult a doctor and manage this condition as it is not possible to completely reverse it. Dr Bhamre added that signs such as headache, dizziness, heaviness in chest, breathing problem after walking, and left shoulder pain should also not be neglected.
The study, an international collaboration between scientists from Imperial College London and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), among others, noted that India ranked 193rd for women and 170th for men in the rate of hypertension diagnosis among 200 countries.
Between 60 per cent and 70 per cent of men and women in the country are unaware of their condition, according to the study. “This lack of diagnosis further trickles down to extremely low rates of hypertension treatment leaving people predisposed to life-threatening conditions such as heart attacks and strokes,” it read.
Periodic screening and monitoring of health parameters can prevent the onset of chronic diseases and have a significant impact on morbidity and mortality, said Dr Radha Rangarajan, CSO HealthCube. “Screening is generally done in healthy people who do not have any symptoms. The tests measure parameters that can go awry before the onset of the actual condition, leading to the prevention of the disease. For example, hypertension is the biggest risk factor for cardiovascular disease (CVD). But it can go undetected for years, as people do not get their blood pressure measured regularly. Detection of hypertension and treatment, if needed, can keep a person healthy for decades,” she said.
While it is never too early to start screening, every individual has unique risk factors including family history, lifestyle and diet. These should be assessed by a physician to determine the parameters that need to be screened and the frequency, doctors mention.
What can be done?
To bring down the numbers in the recommended range, you need to stay physically active and exercise daily, Dr Gadkar said. “Do activities that you like — swimming, dancing, aerobics, strength training, or even running. Stay stress-free by doing yoga or meditation. Eat a well-balanced diet loaded with fresh fruits, vegetables, and legumes. Avoid too much salt and processed foods. Be vigilant, stay healthy,” he said.
Reducing salt intake to 6 gm/day is a must, experts said. “Avoid too much salted foods like papad, pickles, chips and salted nuts. Eat less sugar, oily food, and maintaining a normal weight, and regular exercise is the mantra,” shared Dr Manjusha Agarwal, senior consultant, and physician at Global Hospital, Mumbai.