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In western countries, the number of people affected by high blood pressure (BP) or hypertension is decreasing. In India, however, the figure is creeping up, albeit marginally (2-3 per cent). This is worrying because, untreated, hypertension may result in complications like a heart attack, heart or kidney failure, tearing of the blood vessels and loss of vision. It can also cause subtle loss of memory and the ability to think clearly.
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BP indicates the force with which the heart pumps blood against the blood vessel. It has two values — an upper or systolic and a lower or diastolic. Values of 120/80 are normal, while 139/89 indicates pre-hypertension and 140/90 or above hypertension. With age, the blood vessels tend to harden, decreasing their pliability. This causes a peculiar type of hypertension where only the upper value is high. About 70 per cent of the population over the age of 60 has this type of systolic hypertension. BP should be measured every two years after the age of 20 and yearly after 40.
The risk of hypertension increases with age, obesity, a family history of high BP, kidney diseases, diabetes, endocrine diseases, smoking, alcohol consumption, medications like corticosteroids, birth control pills or those for losing weight. Narrow abnormally placed blood vessels present from birth can also lead to high BP. If no cause can be detected, it’s called “essential hypertension” and requires medication to prevent complications. Even isolated systolic hypertension requires treatment.
BP is linked to salt intake. A high salt intake results in elevated BP. The effect is even more pronounced in people (around 20 per cent of the population) who are “salt sensitive”.
The recommended salt intake for a normal person is 5gm or 1 teaspoon a day. But the “hidden salt” must also be considered. All food and even drinking water contains varying amounts of natural salt. Sodium (a component of salt) is added to food products in the form of monosodium glutamate, sodium nitrite, sodium saccharin, baking soda (sodium bicarbonate) or sodium benzoate. These are ingredients in condiments and seasonings like tomato sauce, soy sauce and pickles. Processed meats such as bacon, sausage and ham, and fast foods like burgers and pizzas are high in sodium content.
Medications belonging to groups such as diuretics, alpha blockers, angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers and rennin inhibitors are available to control blood pressure. The pharmaceutical industry also introduces “new and improved” drugs in the market with monotonous regularity. Control remains unsatisfactory in many patients who are then dosed with two or more anti hypertensives. The older, long-acting diuretics, surprisingly, remain one of the most effective medications, either as an adjuvant to existing medicine or alone.
Better control of BP with lower doses of medication can often be achieved if the person is willing to make certain lifestyle changes. Weight needs to be ideal. As weight increases, so does the pressure on your artery walls. To calculate your ideal body weight, multiply your height in meter squared by 23.
Inactive people have a faster heart rate, forcing the heart to work harder for longer periods of time. Aerobic exercise like walking, jogging, swimming or running needs to be done daily. It should be started at the age of around six with 20 minutes of running. Gradually this should be increased to an hour by the age of 18 years.
Smoking (even second-hand smoke), using snuff or chewing tobacco releases chemicals into the body which damage the blood vessels, making them narrow and thus increasing the BP.
Salt makes the body retain fluid, which in turn increases the BP. Limit your intake to 5gm a day. Sodium can be balanced by potassium found in fresh fruits and vegetables. Eat four to six helpings of this a day.
Vitamin D obtained through the diet and by exposure to sunlight affects the levels of a BP-regulating enzyme in the kidneys. Inadequate levels can indirectly elevate the BP.
Heavy drinking can cause permanent heart damage. Even two or three drinks in a single sitting can cause the release of chemicals that temporarily elevate the BP.
Stress can elevate the BP. It needs to tackled with meditation and yoga. Chronic diseases like diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney disease and sleep apnoea need to be controlled as they contribute to the risk of high BP.
Children too are at risk from as early as six or eight years if they are obese, inactive and eat high sodium snacks. These lifestyle changes, therefore, need to be initiated from a young age.
You may click to see :10 Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure Without Medication
Source: The Telegraph (Kolkata, India)
- Hypertension (High Blood Pressure) Glossary (everydayhealth.com)
- Hypertension: Uprooting the silent killer (vanguardngr.com)
- Drug-induced hypertension – All Information (umm.edu)
- Get Smart About Sodium and Salt (everydayhealth.com)
- Are nonsodium salts healthier than traditional? (cnn.com)
- Essential hypertension – All Information (umm.edu)
- Some Health Quaries & Answers (findmeacure.com)
- Types of Hypertension Medications (brighthub.com)
- It takes 2 for improved control of blood pressure (eurekalert.org)
- What is the Relationship Between Diabetes Mellitus and Hypertension Patients? (brighthub.com)