Prevalence of hypertension in youngsters rising; here’s why

World Hypertension Day: High blood pressure can quietly damage the body for years before symptoms develop

Hypertension affects one-quarter of the global population and is the leading modifiable risk factor for cardiovascular disease and mortality. Hypertension in young adults is increasingly common nowadays with a prevalence as high as 1 in 8 adults. Early life factors including genetics, ethnicity along with lifestyle contribute to increased blood pressure. As the duration of uncontrolled hypertension determines the amount of damage in the heart, kidney and brain, the health hazards associated with these young hypertensives are naturally going to be higher in their middle age.

Definition of hypertension

Hypertension (high blood pressure) can simply be defined as a condition in which the force exerted by the blood column on blood vessel walls is too high. As per recent NICE guidelines hypertension is present when young adults(<40yrs) have a systolic blood pressure(SBP) >140mmHg and diastolic BP(DBP) >80mmHg.

What are the risk factors for hypertension?

Hypertension results from a combination of factors like genetics, diet, lifestyle, and age. Lifestyle factors include smoking, drinking too much alcohol, stress, being overweight, eating too much salt, and not getting enough exercise. Out of these the top three risk factors for hypertension in young were perceived to be smoking, mental stress and obesity.

Why hypertension is deleterious..?

High blood pressure (hypertension) can quietly damage the body for years before symptoms develop. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can lead to disability, poor quality of life, or even a deadly heart attack or stroke.

Healthy arteries are flexible, strong and elastic. Their inner lining is smooth so that blood flows freely, supplying vital organs and tissues with nutrients and oxygen. High blood pressure (hypertension) gradually increases the pressure of blood flowing through the arteries. Arteries narrowed and damaged by high blood pressure have trouble supplying blood to vital organs like the heart, brain and kidney.

Too little blood flow to the heart can lead to chest pain (angina), irregular heart rhythms (arrhythmias) or a heart attack. Arterial stiffness produced by long-standing hypertension can affect the brain resulting in a stroke, kidney resulting in chronic kidney failure and retina eye producing vision loss. Similarly, the poor blood supply to the penis due to arterial stiffness from high blood pressure can lead to erectile dysfunction in men, adversely affecting their quality of life.

How to reduce blood pressure and prevent your heart disease.

Watch your waist line and lose weight:

Weight loss is one of the most effective lifestyle changes for controlling blood pressure. Losing even a small amount of weight if you’re overweight or obese can help reduce your blood pressure.

Exercise regularly

Physical activity helps to maintain a healthy weight and lower BP, blood cholesterol and blood sugar level. Perform at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity activity a week or 75 minutes of vigorous-intensity activity a week. Spread exercise evenly over 4 to 5 days a week. Reduce time spent sitting or lying down and break up long periods of not moving with some activity

Eat healthy:

Eat food rich in fibre, lean meat, whole grains, fruits, vegetables and low-fat dairy products. Increase the variety of plant food consumed.

Don’t smoke:

Cigarette smoking increases the risk of hypertension and heart disease 2 to 4-fold. If you don’t smoke, don’t start. If you do smoke, quitting will reduce your heart disease.

Reduce sodium in diet:

Limit salty processed (canned/frozen) food. They often have a lot of sodium. Prepare and eat more foods at home, where you can control how much salt(sodium) is added.

Reduce stress:

Chronic stress may contribute to high blood pressure. Occasional stress can also lead to high blood pressure if you react to stress by eating unhealthy food, drinking alcohol or smoking.

Monitor blood pressure at home and visit your doctor:

Home monitoring can help you keep tabs on your blood pressure by making certain changes in your lifestyle like exercise, yoga which will alert you and your doctor to potential health complications.

The author is Interventional Cardiologist and Honorary Consultant at Global Hospital, Parel, Mumbai. Views are personal.

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