The Lowdown on High Blood Pressure

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Apr 27, 2016

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A recent analysis found that a third of all urban Indians and quarter of all rural Indians have hypertension. To make matters worse, this same paper noted that only 20% of these urban Indians and only 10% of these rural Indians are properly managing this condition.

That’s a lot of blood vessels ready to pop.

Hypertension, aka high blood pressure or high ‘BP,’ occurs when artery walls are stretched and strained by the force of the heart’s pumping. It has a lot of causes, but most often, it is the result from some hereditary factors as well as general wear and tear on the body. That doesn’t make it any less serious.

In the short term, high blood pressure very rarely causes symptoms – which probably explains the number of Indians with poorly managed blood pressure; it’s difficult to be disciplined about a condition that doesn’t seem to be bothering you. (Just talk to my grandparents, who in the past have been known to take their hypertension medications on an “as needed basis” with a side of pakoras. Sigh.)

But discipline is what’s needed to manage high BP.

High BP is treated by a combination of medication and lifestyle changes.  Some time back, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the U.S. developed the DASH (“dietary approaches to stop hypertension”) diet plan as a non-pharmacological way to combat high blood pressure. The DASH diet is appreciated by doctors because it has been backed by research that proves its success in lowering blood pressure. It has also been appreciated by patients because it gives a little more guidance than the traditional medical advice to “avoid salt” – which we all know is nearly impossible with the Indian diet.

The DASH diet, however, complements the Indian diet, and emphasizes the importance of integrating fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy, lean protein sources, nuts, legumes, and whole grains into an overall healthy lifestyle. These high-fiber and low-fat meals, combined with exercise and weight loss, as well as your doctor’s prescribed medication, add up to a winning fight against high blood pressure.

This 1-2-3 punch to high blood pressure becomes even more important with age. Aging puts increased wear-and-tear on blood vessels. If hypertension is poorly treated over the years, the risk of developing a serious complication, such as stroke, increases greatly. In fact, studies have shown that after the age of 55, the stroke rate more than doubles in men and women every 10 years.

So even if you or a loved one are nearing retirement age, you’re not allowed to retire from taking care of your health. You won’t see any immediate symptom relief with blood pressure control, because there are no real symptoms – until the high pressures cause your blood vessels to reach a literal breaking point, leading to strokes (due to overly stressed blood vessels in the brain), heart attacks (due to damaged blood vessels in the heart), and kidney failure (due to years of strain on your kidneys’ blood vessels). Think of your high BP blood vessels like a pressure cooker ready to blow.

You might not see short-term consequences; you might not even see long-term gain – unless you count the fact that you are still healthy and able. So work with your doctor to manage your blood pressure for the long haul. Even the smallest of changes in your present life can make a world of difference for your future health.

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Written By Farah Naz Khan

Farah Naz Khan is a physician and a writer based in the United States.  She loves all things pertaining to India and Bollywood, and she is passionate about pursuing a medical career in global health, particularly the growing incidence of diabetes in India. For more of Farah’s thoughts, follow her on Twitter @farah287 or visit her website at farahnazkhan.com.

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