Prevent the foul four

Ways to prevent hypertension, Alzheimer’s, liver and kidney disorders

We know that prevention is better than cure. But do we really practise it? It is only after contracting a disease that we become aware of ways to avoid it. But it’s never too late; follow these measures to prevent some common diseases.

Hypertension

Hypertension—commonly known as high blood pressure—is when your heart persistently pumps blood with a force that is above normal levels. Although hypertension does not show prominent symptoms, it must be kept in check or avoided as it often causes complications such as heart attack, stroke, and renal failure.

To prevent high blood pressure [BP]:

  • Limit your intake of salt as the sodium in it is a major cause of elevating blood pressures. This means forgoing chips, pickles and processed foods.
  • Exercise regularly. Leading a sedentary life increases blood cholesterol levels, causing blood vessels to get narrow. This requires the heart to exert more pressure to pump the required amount of blood to your body.
  • Do not smoke. Even nicotine [a chemical found in cigarettes] causes the blood vessels to constrict, increasing blood pressure.
  • Abstain from alcohol as it interferes with blood circulation.
  • Keep your mind calm and relaxed. Practise meditation or any activity that energises you and keeps stress away.

Alzheimer’s Disease

Alzheimer’s is a brain disorder marked by memory loss and impairment of other intellectual faculties, which seriously impede normal life. It is a degenerative disease and has no cure. To prevent Alzheimer’s:

  • Eat a diet rich in omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, vitamin E and vitamin B 12.
  • Be active. In addition to keeping you fit, it has a positive affect on the mind. Research indicates that exercise can reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s—it increases the flow of blood to the brain and boosts the development of new brain cells.
  • Engage in mentally stimulating activities. The more you challenge your brain cells, the healthier they will remain.
  • Meditate. It reduces stress, promotes positive thinking, and reduces depression. It also keeps you mentally alert and less stressed.
  • Eat fresh fruits at least thrice a weak. The polyphenols in fruits have the ability to prevent Alzheimer’s.
  • Get adequate sleep; it refreshes the brain, relaxes your body and mind and releases anti-ageing hormones—all vital for a healthy, active brain.
  • Avoid consuming alcohol and tobacco
  • If you are predisposed due to any reason, consult your doctor for certain medicines to take, which aid in preventing Alzheimer’s.

Liver Diseases

There are many kinds of liver diseases—while viruses cause some of them, others are a result of drugs, poisons or drinking excess alcohol. Common liver diseases are hepatitis [inflammation of the liver], cirrhosis [formation of fibrous tissue in the liver], haemochromatosis [accumulation of iron in the body], Wilson’s disease [accumulation of copper in the body] and Budd-Chiari syndrome [obstruction of the hepatic vein].

Here are some ways to prevent diseases of the liver:

  • Get yourself vaccinated for hepatitis A and B.
  • Keep a safe distance from hepatitis patients. Avoid sharing/touching anything that is in the patient’s close proximity.
  • Maintain strict personal hygiene—wash your hands as often as possible, especially after using the washroom and before eating/preparing food.
  • Minimise—or better still stop—your alcohol consumption.
  • Avoid transfusion of blood and other body fluids in unhygienic and unauthorised places.
  • Eat a well-balanced, low-fat diet and maintain ideal weight always.

Kidney Diseases

Kidney diseases are numerous; the most common being glomerulonephritis [inflammation of small blood vessels in the kidneys]. Other disorders include chronic kidney failure, polycystic kidney disease [cystic genetic disorder of the kidneys], Alport’s syndrome [inherited cause of kidney failure], hereditary nephritis, primary hyperoxaluria [increased excretion of oxalate resulting in renal and bladder stones.] and cystinuria [formation of cystine stones in the kidneys].

Complications of the kidney could be a result of various factors—diabetes, high blood pressure, obesity or heredity. Although there is no permanent cure to the disease, there are ways you can prevent them.

  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day to keep the kidneys clean so that all impurities are washed out of your system.
  • Keep your BP under check as a fluctuating BP is one of the major causes of kidney diseases.
  • Be aware of changes in your urine. If it is smelly, foamy or cloudy, or if you experience a burning sensation while urinating, see your doctor immediately. All these are symptoms of a urinary tract infection, which, if left untreated could lead to kidney diseases later.
  • If you have a family history of kidney disease or hypertension, reduce your intake of animal protein and get yourself regularly checked by a doctor. Because of your predisposition, you may be advised to use ACE [angiotensin-converting enzyme] inhibitor medication.

The value of preventative check-ups

Preventing an illness becomes easier if you know where you stand with regards to it. For instance, you are genetically predisposed to diabetes or heart condition, or are exposed to the risk factors. The only way you can find out how close or far you are from contracting these disorders is by screening. Screening becomes extremely important particularly in case of lifestyle disorders or critical illnesses such as cancers. “Enough can’t be said about the importance of screening in preventing, detecting and curing cancer. It’s simply your best line of defence when it comes to protecting yourself from this deadly disease. You aren’t see-through. Screening is the best way to stop cancer in its tracks or prevent it from developing in the first place,” says a Government of Ontario, Canada directive. But this is true for any disease.

Regular medical check ups also help identify the reason for minor ailments, which keep ailing us. They also help maintain one’s medical history and bring to light areas that need attention or modification. After 30, you should regularly get yourself checked once every year, and undergo thorough screening at least once every five years and more often as you age.

The common diagnostic tests one must undergo include:

  • Thyroid profile
  • Liver function tests
  • Renal profile
  • Lipid profile
  • Iron deficiency profile
  • Diabetes profile
  • Haemogram
  • Lung function tests
  • Cardiac profile
  • Cancer screening.

Your doctor will guide you on the diagnostic tests you need to undergo based on your health, family history and lifestyle.

With inputs from Anil Ballani, Internal medicine, Lilavati Hospital and Research Centre, Mumbai

This was first published in the September 2010 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

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