Hypertension is the leading preventable cause of death worldwide. According to the National Family Health Survey, which screened 22.5 million people across India in 2017, one out of every eight Indian suffers from hypertension. It is commonly known as high blood pressure and contributes to 57 per cent of stroke deaths, and 24 per cent of coronary artery deaths.
With changing lifestyles and gender roles, the impact of hypertension can be seen in both men and women. It therefore becomes extremely important to be aware of how high blood pressure affects the body to keep it in control and prevent fatalities.
On World Hypertension Day, which is celebrated on May 17 every year to promote awareness about hypertension and encourage people to prevent and control this silent killer, Dr Naresh Trehan, chairman and managing director, Medanta shares the risk factors, symptoms and treatment for hypertension. The theme this year is ‘Know Your Numbers’ with a goal of increasing awareness about high blood pressure (BP).
Hypertension occurs when a person’s arterial blood pressure is consistently elevated above a certain level. In case of high blood pressure, the force needed to pump blood is higher than what is considered as normal. Having high blood pressure simply means, the heart has to pump harder to supply blood around the body.
Blood pressure is evaluated through two readings, the systolic pressure and the diastolic pressure. The systolic pressure value indicates the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats. The diastolic pressure value denotes the pressure in the arteries between heart beats. A person is diagnosed with hypertension when the systolic blood pressure is greater than or equal to 140 mm of mercury or the diastolic blood pressure is greater than or equal to 90 mm of mercury.
Signs and symptoms
High blood pressure is often termed a ‘silent killer’ as it has no symptoms until organs in the body are seriously affected. People with high blood pressure may have headaches, shortness of breath or nosebleeds, but these signs and symptoms aren’t specific and usually don’t occur until high blood pressure has reached a severe or life-threatening stage.
Undetected and untreated, it leads to problems in the functions of major organs and serious complications such as heart attacks, stroke and other diseases which can eventually lead to disability or death. When the arteries that bring blood and oxygen to the heart are damaged or blocked, the heart becomes weak and injured leading to a heart attack. If a similar process happens in the brain, it is called a stroke.
*Age: With age, the risk increases; until about the age of 64 years, high blood pressure is more common in men, but women are more likely to develop it post 65 years.
*Obesity: With increasing weight, more blood is needed to supply oxygen and nutrients to the tissues, thereby increasing the risk of high blood pressure.
*Tobacco: Smoking or chewing tobacco immediately raises the blood pressure level temporarily. Chemicals in tobacco can damage the lining of artery walls, causing them to narrow and increase the risk of heart disease.
*Excessive salt and inadequate potassium in the diet can aggravate blood pressure as potassium helps balance the excessive sodium intake.
*Heavy alcohol consumption.
*High levels of stress.
A majority of people don’t get their blood pressure measured regularly and therefore are unaware that they are at an increased risk for disability and death due to hypertension. Screening and management play a crucial role as hypertension once diagnosed can be treated to prevent complications. High blood pressure can be treated with medicines, dietary changes and physical activities.
*A diet consisting of low-fat dairy products, whole grains, poultry, fish, fruits and vegetables, helps reduce blood pressure.
*It is advisable to reduce sodium intake and increase potassium intake. 1500 mg of sodium a day or less is ideal.
Exercising for 30 mins daily like walking, jogging, swimming, cycling can help maintain normal blood pressure levels.
*One may also require medications to control blood pressure.