Why all the fuss around hypertension?

High blood pressure is one of the most common lifestyle diseases in the world, with more than one-fourth of the global population living with high BP.

Myupchar October 22, 2019 15:33:38 IST
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Why all the fuss around hypertension?
  • High blood pressure is one of the most common lifestyle diseases in the world, with more than one-fourth of the global population living with high BP

  • High blood pressure is when this pressure against the blood vessel walls is consistently too high

  • Though common, hypertension can lead to severe health conditions like stroke, heart attack, heart failure and aneurysms

In a first-of-its-kind study in India, the All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) is collaborating with the Netherlands' Erasmus University to study the causes of stroke, dementia and cognitive dysfunction in the Indian population. 

One of the first observations to have come out of the study — called the "Indo- Dutch Longitudinal Cognitive and Ageing Research in Population of NCR Cohort Study" — is that 70% of the participants have high blood pressure (BP).

Why all the fuss around hypertension

Representational image. Image source: Getty Images.

All the participants are over 50 years old, and most of them live in south Delhi’s Vasant Kunj area. The study will continue for up to 50 years, till any of the participants is alive.

BP over 140/90 is considered to be high. It is one of the most common lifestyle diseases in the world, with more than one-fourth of the global population living with high BP. 

Though common, hypertension can lead to severe health conditions like stroke, heart attack, heart failure and aneurysms (a bulge in a blood vessel that has become weak). According to the World Health Organization (WHO), hypertension causes around 7.5 million deaths worldwide, accounting for 12.8% of all deaths globally.

What is high BP?

Our circulatory system supplies oxygenated blood to the tissues and organs for their proper functioning. The heart beats and creates pressure to push the blood through the blood vessels. High blood pressure is when this pressure against the blood vessel walls is consistently too high.

High BP affects every part of the body, from the brain to the eyes down to the digestive system. It affects the blood vessels which can become weaker, and therefore more prone to cholesterol deposits.

Who is at risk?

Though anyone can develop hypertension at any stage of life, the following factors can increase your chances of getting high BP:

  • Ageing: Our arteries become more rigid and thicker as we age. The heart now has to work harder to pump blood, and the blood pressure rises.
  • Weight gain: Obese or overweight people are at higher risk of developing hypertension.
  • Gender: Hypertension affects younger men more than women while it affects women more than men after their mid-fifties.
  • Poor lifestyle: Certain lifestyle habits like bad diet, lack of exercise, alcoholism and smoking can increase the chances of hypertension.
  • Family history: A family history of hypertension, too, increases one’s chances of getting high BP.
  • Race: Studies show that hypertension is more common in African Americans and Asians than in Caucasians.

Given that age is an important risk factor, it is understandable that most people in the AIIMS study had hypertension. 

What can you do to avoid hypertension?

Factors like family history, race and ageing are not in your control. But there are some changes you can make to your daily routine for better health outcomes.

  • Switch to a healthier diet: Eating healthy saves you from lots of health problems, and hypertension is no exception. Make it a habit to eat lots of fruits, vegetables and whole grains. Avoid fat-rich foods. Limit sodium (salt) intake, and increase potassium intake to maintain blood pressure. The DASH dietary pattern and the Mediterranean diet are known to lower blood pressure levels.
  • Exercise regularly: Regular exercise keeps your weight and blood pressure under control. Brisk-walking or any other moderate- to vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise in which your heart beats faster and uses more oxygen than usual is good for the heart.
  • Limit alcohol: Alcohol and cigarettes are not good for your heart. Too much alcohol increases the risk of high BP and also makes you overweight. Try to limit alcohol consumption to one drink per day.
  • Quit smoking: There is already enough smoke in the atmosphere, why burden your heart and lungs with more? Smoking is unhealthy in every possible way. It is bad for your lungs and bad for your heart. Apart from increasing the chances of hypertension, it also causes heart disease and cancer.
  • Adopt a new way to manage stress: Stress and anxiety are not good for your mental well-being or your physical health. During stress, the blood vessels constrict which puts extra pressure on your heart. Apart from hypertension, stress-related unhealthy habits like overeating, insomnia, substance abuse or alcoholism can increase the risks of cardiovascular diseases.

There are many stress-releasing techniques like meditation, listening to music, pursuing any of your hobbies that help to keep you calm and relaxed. Opt for one that works for you.

The AIIMS study — which ran a battery of tests like echocardiograms and MRIs on the participants — has already had an important, unintended benefit: about one-third of the people living with hypertension only found out their BP was high after being tested during the study. This isn't unusual - hypertension is known as the silent killer. What is important is that these people are now aware of their condition and can manage it with medicines and lifestyle changes.  

Health articles in Firstpost are written by myUpchar.com, India’s first and biggest resource for verified medical information. At myUpchar, researchers and journalists work with doctors to bring you information on all things health. For more information, read our article on Hypertension: Causes, Symptoms, Treatment and Prevention.

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