Beware of the Silent Killer!

Doctors say regular checks and lifestyle changes can control high BP


It’s dubbed a ‘silent killer’ because there are usually no warning signs or symptoms and most people don’t even know they have it.


What makes Hypertension (or High Blood Pressure) even more scary is that it’s extremely common - medical practitioners claim 25-40% of the urban Indian population suffer from it and the numbers are rising thanks to our modern lifestyle and diet.


Uncontrolled high blood pressure can be serious. “It’s like driving your car in first gear all the time. It leads to higher chances of developing atherosclerosis or heart blocks and makes a person vulnerable to stroke, heart failure and kidney failure,” says Dr. Adil Sadiq, Senior Consultant & Head, Adult Cardiac Surgery, Sakra World Hospital, Bangalore.


This is why doctors recommend regular BP checks. Dr. Sadiq says regular blood pressure check is the cornerstone for the diagnosis of Hypertension. “Given today's lifestyle, I would recommend check your blood pressure regularly from the age of 30 years,” he notes.


Regular Checkups


How often should you get your blood pressure checked? There is no hard and fast rule, say experts, but if you are below 35-40 years and have no family history of heart disease and are otherwise healthy and active, once or twice a year should normally be enough. People above 40 years should do it often – maybe every few months.


Those at high risk of hypertension – i.e. if you are overweight, are not physically active, have a high stress job, eat irregular meals, have an unhealthy diet, smoke or drink often and/or have a family history of heart ailments – need to check their blood pressure more often. Remember there are no obvious signs of high blood pressure.


Says Dr. S. P Datta, General Physician, “Some people may complain of headaches, shortness of breath, vomiting, fatigue, swelling of the feet or nosebleeds, but these symptoms are not specific and may only occur when the blood pressure has already reached an alarming level.”


Measuring your BP is easy - it can be done at home with a blood pressure monitor. These are widely available and are not expensive and you don’t need a prescription to buy one. In fact, some newer models even tell you if the blood pressure reading is high or low! Consult your doctor on how to get started.


Know Your Numbers    


According to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention, blood pressure is the force of blood pushing against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Blood pressure normally rises and falls throughout the day. But if it stays high for a long time, it can damage your heart and lead to serious health problems.


Blood pressure is expressed as two numbers (such as 120/80) and is measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg). The first number is the systolic blood pressure, i.e. the amount of force used when the heart beats. The second number, or diastolic blood pressure, is the pressure that exists in the arteries between heartbeats.


Because blood pressure levels keep changing, it is important to know the numbers to keep a check on it. Normal BP level is 120/80 mmHg – the top number refers to the systolic pressure and the bottom to the diastolic pressure. 


Any reading outside this range – i.e. systolic higher than 120 and diastolic higher than 80 – is a cause for concern. Both numbers in a blood pressure reading are important. But after the age of 60, the systolic reading is even more significant.


Lifestyle & Diet


Changing your lifestyle can go a long way towards controlling high blood pressure. Dr. Adil Sadiq of Sakra World Hospital says high BP can be prevented by avoiding processed food, a low salt intake and having a balanced diet that includes fruits and vegetables. “Say no to tobacco, lower your alcohol use, avoid stressful environments and exercise daily to keep your blood pressure under control,” he adds.


In addition to diet and exercise, your doctor may also recommend medication to lower your blood pressure. Remember, lifestyle and diet changes will also help the medication to work more effectively.


- Rahul Lahkar, Saralhealth Bureau, Bangalore

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