Hypertension – A Silent Killer

High blood pressure is a concern not only for aging people but also for the young. Here are certain dos and don'ts you can follow to stay healthy

Bridal fashionCan youth suffer from high blood pressure? No way! High blood pressure is only for old people.

If this is what you believe, you are like most people who associate hypertension or high blood pressure with aging. You probably wouldn't believe that one in five youngsters in India suffer from this incommunicable disease. This may sound surprising but it is an unfortunate fact. Many of us are affected by this condition. Nowadays, it is best for parents to get their and their teenage children's blood pressure checked every six months. It will be crucial in ensuring your health and that of your kids.

What is blood pressure?

Blood pressure is defined as the pressure or force your blood exerts against your blood vessels as the heart pumps. The pressure typically rises as your heart pumps [systolic pressure] and falls when the heart relaxes [diastolic pressure]. The normal blood pressure for an adult should be 120 mm Hg [systolic] over 80 mm Hg [diastolic]. A blood pressure reading of 140 mm Hg over 90 mm Hg, on the other hand, can be considered high.

There are no specific symptoms to identify this condition. Often, one comes to know about high blood pressure during an unrelated medical examination. This state of raised blood pressure can remain dormant for years without any major symptoms. This dormant state can later manifest with complications such as heart diseases [angina, stroke, myocardial infarction] and kidney diseases. Therefore hypertension is known as a "silent killer".

Symptoms

The most common symptoms observed when blood pressure rises are headaches, dizziness, impaired vision and gastrointestinal disturbances. However, the extent of symptoms depends upon the rise and the length of time this condition is present.

Blood pressure can be influenced by a number of factors. Among these are the degree of rest, physical activity or stress, heredity, eating habits, lifestyle, emotional state and medications being taken.

Here are some ways to control your blood pressure.

Dos for hypertensive persons

  • Strive to maintain your weight height ratio, also called Body Mass Index [BMI]. Basal metabolic rate decreases as you age, therefore, do not set very high goals for yourself. Try to have a balanced diet. Do not go on starvation or crash diets to lose weight.
  • Always concentrate on the quality of food than the quantity. In your diet, the ratio of protein, carbohydrates and fat is important. Protein should contribute 20 per cent of the total energy, fat – 15 per cent and rest can come from carbohydrates.
  • In case of carbohydrates, lay emphasis on foods high in complex carbohydrates such as dietary fibre rather than simple sugars [any kind of processed, preserved or fast foods - pasta, noodles and the like]. Increase fibre in your diet, by including lots of fruits and salads.
  • If you are hypertensive, decrease the intake of salt/sodium. Avoid using more than two to three grams of salt per day. However, the extent of salt restriction depends on the level of blood pressure. Try to have at least a bowl of salad without salt before dinner. You can add a variety of flavouring agents such as lemon, vinegar, herbs, onion and garlic to improve the taste of salt-free food.
  • Adequate potassium intake can be a part of the treatment. Sources of potassium such as tomato, chickoo, watermelon, banana, leafy vegetables, bitter gourd, brinjal, potatoes, apricots and legumes can be included in the diet. However, hypertensive persons with kidney disease should avoid a high intake of potassium.
  • You can have one or two cloves of garlic early morning with a glass of lukewarm water, daily.
  • Resting is very important; you should have at least six to seven hours of sound sleep.
  • Adopt a regular exercise routine. Exercise helps prevent weight gain, and aids in shedding off those excess pounds, thus keeping your heart and blood vessels in top condition. However, it is always better to check with your doctor before you start any kind of exercise programme. Also, consult an experienced personal trainer or coach, prior to beginning a weight-training programme. This can help prevent injuries.
  • Include meditation in your daily routine.
  • Check your blood pressure regularly.

Don'ts for hypertensive persons

Do not use:

  • Salt at the table [use salt sparingly in cooking]
  • Salt-preserved foods such as salted or smoked meat [ham, bacon, sausages], salted or smoked fish.
  • Shell fishes such as shrimp, crab and lobster.
  • Highly-salted foods such as potato chips, salted nuts, popcorn and salted biscuits.
  • Food with sodium as preservative such as ketchup, chilli sauce, soya sauce, garlic sauce, pickle and various chutneys.
  • Baking powder, baking soda or anything containing these.
  • Flavour-enhancers like ajinomoto. This means Chinese foods.
  • Bread, bun and processed cheese.
  • Alcohol may lead to development of the disease.
  • Smoking is never considered a healthy habit. What's worse is that smoking and high blood pressure is a deadly combination. The combination of these two can lead to heart attack or stroke later in life.

These few modifications will not only help you to get a control on your systolic and diastolic pressures but will also help to reduce your body weight and get in shape.

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Deepshikha Agarwal
Deepshikha Agarwal is a Mumbai-based dietician and sports nutritionist. She writes nutrition-related columns in newspapers and conducts corporate workshops. She also teaches and conducts lectures on diet and wellness isues.

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