Hypertension The Silent Killer
Hypertension has spread as an epidemic not just in India but all across the world. It has become the most common reason for outpatient visits to doctors; the gravity of the problem just cannot be ignored. Let us discuss Hypertension to better understand its nuances and the relevant preventive measures.
So, what is blood pressure?
Blood pressure (BP) is the pressure at which blood circulates in our vessels throughout the body. Your blood pressure can be measured by a simple BP measuring machine. This machine yields two numbers – the higher number is referred to as the Systolic pressure and the lower number is referred to as the Diastolic pressure.
Blood pressure is reported in the following format – 120/80; 120 is the Systolic pressure and 80 is the Diastolic pressure. Note that 120/80 is the ideal blood pressure for a healthy individual and it varies from person to person. When these numbers deviate too much from their ideal values, it becomes a cause for concern.
Hypertension occurs when the BP values increase to levels that are not considered safe for our wellbeing. If your blood pressure is consistently above 140/90, you are diagnosed with Hypertension. The higher your BP, the more the risk of complications.
Why should Hypertension be taken seriously?
Hypertension should be taken seriously because it can result in a variety of complications that range from mediocre to seriously debilitating. In some cases, such complications can even be fatal. Stroke, heart disease, heart failure and kidney problems are only some of the possible complications that can arise from hypertension.
What people want to know about Hypertension
On my recently concluded Facebook Live chat about hypertension, I answered a number of queries from the chat attendees; here are some of the most important and relevant ones.
Question: What are the symptoms for hypertension when it is in its early stage?
Answer: Hypertension is often silent in most people and doesn’t have any symptom. Often people get to know about it only after the condition has worsened too much. Look out for symptoms such as regular headaches, frequent fatigue, nosebleeds and shortness of breath.
Anyone above 18 years of age should go for regular health check-ups (including a BP check) every 2-3 years. Those above 40 years of age should have a check-up annually.
Question: What are the DOs and DON’Ts of hypertension?
Answer: Following are the most important DOs and DON’Ts for hypertension:
DOs: Regular exercise, healthy diet (DASH Diet), regular medication, maintain a healthy weight.
DON’Ts: Over-stressful daily schedule, smoking, irregular sleeping pattern, high salt intake
Question: What food is good for those with high BP?
Answer: Diet is one of the most important things that can help keep high BP at bay. A specific type of diet called the DASH Diet is of great benefit for those having hypertension. A DASH diet is one that is rich in fruit, vegetables and grains. The fat and sodium (salt) content is kept low; it is basically a low-saturated fat diet. Salt content is kept at a minimum because salt’s primary content – Sodium – is known to aggravate hypertension. A Dash diet can help drop BP by 4-5 points. This range depends upon how your body responds to the diet and how strictly you adhere to it.
Question: How long do we need to take medicine for hypertension? Can it not be controlled with just exercise?
Answer: Many people say they don’t want to start taking BP medicine because once they are on the medication, they will have to continue forever. It is possible for a select few people on antihypertensive medicine to be able to reduce dosage or stop the medicine altogether. This requires you to work very closely with your doctor.
However, most people do require lifelong medication because of certain intrinsic biological factors and inability to control the blood pressure with lifestyle alone. In any case, BP medication should never be stopped without proper consultation with a doctor.
Exercise can definitely help in reducing BP – 30 minutes of moderate intensity workout 4-5 times a week can help in reducing BP by 4-5 points; this range varies from person to person depending upon individual risk-profile charts. It should be noted that exercises take effect gradually and it is necessary to continue medicines until your BP reaches normal levels. Exercises should be seen as supplementing the medicine and not as an instant alternative.Since hypertension can have serious long-term complications, medication should not be dropped until you have consulted your doctor.
Question: My father has high blood pressure and has been on medication for 5 years. He has very long working hours and is always under stress. Can you suggest some tips for him to keep his BP in check?
Answer: You father has all the risk factors for Hypertension. Stress related to long working hours is very common these days. Try to incorporate simple things in your father’s routine. A healthy diet goes a long way in keeping BP stable; sufficient sleep at regular hours helps a lot too; ensure at least 7-8 hours of sleep every day. Ask your father to practice meditation; it has long term benefits with regard to hypertension.
Question: Does heavy exercise such as weightlifting increase BP?
Answer: It is important to realize that blood pressure is a dynamic phenomenon. It changes from minute to minute and also depends on the time of the day. When you are stressed or when you are in the middle of a workout, yourblood pressure will be high compared to when you are resting comfortably.
In any workout, including weightlifting, BP goes up during the period of workout; this is absolutely normal. But it should not be too high either.
If your BP doesn’t rise when you are exerting yourself physically, it is a wholly different cause of concern. Eventually, your BP should return to normal when you relax after your workout. In the longer run, exercises help bring down your BP to normal levels reducing the risk of hypertension and diabetes and improving your cardiovascular fitness.
Question: What are the precautions if I have diabetes and high BP together?
Answer: People with hypertension and diabetes together are at a higher risk of serious complications such as stroke, kidney failure and heart attack. Those who suffer from these two conditions simultaneously should always try to keep their BP as close to 130/80 as possible. Maintaining a healthy diet is also of utmost importance; Dash diet – a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and grain – helps a lot in reducing fat and sodium intake. You should take your BP and diabetes medicines religiously. Getting regular exercise is also very important. Smoking should be absolutely avoided.
Question: Is hypertension hereditary?
Answer: Hypertension often runs in the family; just like eye colour, skin colour and your height, hypertension can be inherited. If both your parent have hypertension, your risk may be as high as 50%; if your family has a history of hypertension, you should waste no time in getting a proper medical check-up.
Disclaimer: This content including advice provides generic information only. It is in no way a substitute for qualified medical opinion. Always consult a specialist or your own doctor for more information.