Hypertension- Is it really a disease of Old Age now?
A 15 year old child came to my clinic 1 week back. He had constant headaches for the past 2 months. No medicines helped him, eye test was clear, he did not have acidity, we did all investigations, and yet we could not find the reason.
And then suddenly, it stuck me that in these past 7 days, I had never checked his blood pressure. Why? Because he is a child!! Yes, he had high blood pressure at the age of 15 years. No other symptoms and all investigations were within normal limits.
This is face of changing India. A disease of the old is now fast becoming a disease of the young. High blood pressure increases the load on the arteries and the heart. It also weakens the arteries and thus making them prone to rupture.
Why is Hypertension growing so rapidly?
Hypertension or high blood pressure, is a disease with many causes- both modifiable and non-modifiable. Our age, sex, race are aspects we cannot change, they are factors which are not in our hands and hence non-modifiable causes. Whereas our lifestyle is OUR choice. Lifestyle is not only about eating and sleeping right, it is also about the routine we follow, stress that we take, how this stress affects us, our exposure to pollution etc.
Lifestyles have changed drastically- not only for the adults but for the children as well. 30 years back, 3 year old children did not eat processed butter, pizzas and burgers, they did not spend 5 hours a day with video games and television, and they did not carry heavy bags to school- unlike today’s children. By the time these children reach the age of 20 years, stress, sedentary habits and unhealthy eating choices are a mainstay in their life.
1 in every 3 people today have high blood pressure and 50% of these people progress to complications of eyes and kidneys as well. Hypertension is called a “silent killer” as it does not show any specific symptoms and thus it often goes undiagnosed. Most people when diagnosed with hypertension, do not continue their medications due to the lack of symptoms. This poses a greater threat to their health as long standing high blood pressure weaken the blood vessels.
Does high blood pressure have complications?
A blood vessel is like a balloon- the more air you fill in it, the more it will expand. And when you deflate the balloon after a long time, it does not come back to its original size. This is exactly what happens to our arteries and veins when the blood pressure is high for a long time- they lose their elasticity and become fragile. Common complications seen are kidney damage, stroke (an artery bursting in the brain), angina, heart attack, eye problems etc.
What are the reasons of Hypertension in youngsters?
Among the varied causes of hypertension, what stands out most in today’s generation is their lifestyle.
Increasing Stress levels–
Stress is of two basic types- Psychological or mental and Physical. Physical stress includes our exposure to chemicals, pollution, prolonged hours of sitting, increased number of hours spent in front of the computers, lack of sleep- all progressing to chronic fatigue syndrome. Where as psychological stress can be blamed on lack of family time, the need to excel professionally, financial uncertainties- leading to anxiety disorders. All these stresses are very common in our day to day life- a few of them unavoidable. Also, we now encounter these stresses at a much younger age- when our body is not ready to take up the challenge. During childhood, the body is still growing- which taxes the body, added to it the challenge to cope up with environmental stress as well- leads to mal-adaptations. These children in the long-run are more prone to lifestyle diseases and its complications.
Stress is of two basic types-
Psychological or mental and Physical. Physical stress includes our exposure to chemicals, pollution, prolonged hours of sitting,
Both the types of stress one have similar reaction from the body- increased secretion of cortisol, apart from other changes. An increase in cortisol, in turn increases anxieties, increases blood pressure levels, increased blood sugar levels and weakens the immunity. Some researchers have suggested that increased cortisol also favors reinforcing the memories of emotional stress, thus leading to long term harmful effects.
In the past 20years, the stress levels have increased drastically. Almost 39% of the youngsters in the age of 18- 30 years are highly stressed and a staggering 34% of the suicides take place in this age group. Maharashtra is second only to Tamil Nadu in highest number of suicides in the country among the youth.
What can we do to reduce stress?
“Stress is a fact of life, being stressed out is not”.
It is important for us to stop taking tensions over small things as we cannot control everything in life. The best ways to manage stress is to first recognize that we are stressed, which we often overlook. Relaxation techniques may vary from one person to the other, though meditation, talking about problems, getting involved in sports, or picking up a hobby are one of the most efficient methods. Spending 5 minutes a day for deep breathing is the easiest and best way to overcome stress.
Nutrition and Diet is an integral part of our living!
Food, is a necessity of life, right from the time of birth. It is important that we eat the right type of food from the very beginning. Children nowadays eat pasta, noodles, bread and ice-creams instead of the healthier traditional options of puran poli, bhakri and shrikhand. This shift in diet has increased the calorie consumption, increased the refined flour intake and reduced the protein intake with an increase in intake of preservatives.
We eat food atleast 3-4 times a day, thus we expose ourselves to harmful substances (if eating junk) atleast 3-4 times a day. This reduces the body’s immunity, makes a person more lethargic and increases the chances of high blood pressure.
What is a Heart friendly diet?
Heart friendly diet is a healthy diet which has more whole grains, lentils, lean meat and pulses and less of refined flour, saturated fats and sugar. Cinnamon and beet root juice are known to have beneficial effect in reducing high blood pressures especially in the young.
Do we really Exercise!!
Do you walk around in the office a lot, stretch yourself, use the stairs in the office- so, are you exercising? The answer is NO. Even though these are good steps to stay active- they cannot be classified as exercise. Exercise is a structured and repetitive work out of different set of muscles for a specified period of time. Regular exercise strengthens the heart, reduces the bad cholesterol, maintains healthy weight, and helps in reducing stress as well. Researches has indicated that we can reduce our chances of having hypertension and diabetes by 50% if we follow a regular exercise regime.
A healthy exercise routine means 150 minutes of exercise every week, with a maximum of 48 hours gap between two workout sessions.
Waist and Hip circumference- Do they matter?
As Indians, our fat percentages in the body are higher than other races. Belly fat is increasing in the age group of 25-35 years due to unhealthy lifestyles. A higher waist circumference increases the chances of hypertension and diabetes. Thus, apart from Body Mass Index which was used earlier, waist circumference and waist-to-hip ratio have become important in assessing the obesity.
The WHO states that abdominal obesity is defined as a waist–hip ratio above 0.90 for males and above 0.85 for females and a waist circumference of 102 centimetres (40 inches) or more in men, or 88 centimetres (35 inches) or more in women, is associated with health problems such as type 2 diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure.
Key to stay healthy
There is no one thing that can be done. Regular health check ups and making the right lifestyle choices are make the foundation of a healthy life.