Blood pressure is often termed as a ‘silent killer’ because it does not have specific symptoms, and detection may often happen too late. This lifestyle disease afflicts one in eight Indians(source: National Family Health Survey), which makes it a cause for concern. But like most lifestyle diseases, it just needs a few tweaks in your lifestyle to prevent and protect you from the disease.
Adding to the confusion, experts say that in 95% of patients, there are no identifiable causes for high blood pressure (the condition is called Essential Hypertension). It can be associated with a family history of hypertension and other metabolic diseases like obesity and diabetes mellitus. “In the remaining 5% of patients, there could be a treatable cause like sleep apnea, blockages in the kidney arteries, or small tumours in the abdomen (the condition is called Secondary Hypertension),” says Dr Nihar Mehta, Consultant Cardiologist, Jaslok Hospital & Research Centre.
Other common secondary causes are diabetes, obesity, smoking, alcohol consumption, high salt intake, physical inactivity, stress, endocrine/thyroid disorders, or pregnancy.
Having high blood pressure puts you at risk of various diseases. “The possible complications of hypertension are heart failure, coronary artery disease, stroke, kidney failure, blindness and peripheral arterial disease (PAD),” says Dr Paritosh Bagel, Internal Medicine, SL Raheja Hospital.
There are certain common signs that you can watch out for, such as a heaviness in the head or throbbing headaches, palpitations on exertion, dizziness, breathlessness, chest discomfort, swelling in the feet, visual difficulties and impotence.
To protect yourself, certain simple steps can go a long way. “Weight loss and reduction of dietary salt can prevent the development of hypertension. Regular exercise and regular intake of medicines as prescribed by the doctor can also prevent complications arising from hypertension,” says Dr Bagel.
Dr Mehta suggests regular blood pressure monitoring at a physician’s clinic, at a hospital or at home with a home blood pressure apparatus to detect the disease early.
Once you have been diagnosed with the disease, it is best to make some changes to your routine and incorporate some healthy habits. “Lifestyle changes form the cornerstone of blood pressure management. A low-salt diet (avoid pickles, papad, fried food, biscuits) and regular aerobic exercise of moderate intensity (30 minutes a day at least for 5 days a week) are essential for all patients with high blood pressure. Meditation and pranayam are also good ways to reduce blood pressure,” says Dr Mehta. In addition, several patients need medications to keep their blood pressure in the target range of less than 140 mmHg systolic and less than 90 mmHg diastolic, he says.
Some of the modern-day treatments for the disease include Renal Denervation Therapy where the nerves around the kidney artery are subjected to radiofrequency to reduce blood pressure. Another promising therapy is Baroreceptor Activation Therapy where a pacemaker sends continuous stimuli to the carotid artery in the neck. “These therapies are still in the experimental phase and might become available in the near future,” says Dr Mehta.