Vidur Sharma’s (name changed) recurrent headaches started as a 11-year-old in Class six. “We moved into a sixth floor apartment five years ago, and since going down six flights was too much trouble, he started staying indoors more,” says his mother Sharmistha, a housewife.
Tuition classes cut down his playtime further. “He would be back home at 7.30pm, after which it would be just TV, playstation, dinner and sleep,” says Sharma. That’s when the weight gain started — he was 12 kg overweight — followed by headaches. Suspecting a vision problem, they consulted an ophthalmologist, who asked them to get his Blood Pressure (BP) checked.
Vidur was diagnosed with hypertension, defined as persistent high blood pressure for over a month.
“A decade ago, hypertension in children was a secondary condition caused by kidney or other disorders. Now, it has become the primary condition, mostly linked to obesity,” said Dr K Srinath Reddy, senior cardiologist and founder of Public Health Foundation of India.
Losing weight helped Vidur, who is a Class 8 student at Ryan International School, Noida. “He joined a gym and started eating home-cooked meals. To reduce stress, we replaced coaching classes with home tutoring. Now he doesn’t need medicines to keep his BP under control,” says Sharma.
“Recent data suggests that hypertension in urban children is 8-10%, with obesity being the most common risk factor,” said Dr Ashok Seth, chairman of cardiac sciences, Fortis Escorts Heart Institute.
A healthy young adult should have a BP of about 110/75mmHg, with higher readings considered pre-hypertension or, if over 140/90mmHg, hypertension.
“Over time, hypertension can cause serious and irreversible damage in the form of heart attack, heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and even blindness,” says Dr JP S Sawhney, senior consultant cardiology at Sir Gangaram Hospital.
Fortunately, modifications in lifestyle can help control BP. “Stress increases BP as it raises adrenaline and other steroids levels in the body,” says Dr Reddy.
The other important way is to check your salt intake. “Preservatives, meetha soda and baking powder are also high in sodium,” says Ritika Sammadar, regional head, dietetics, Max Healthcare. And as much as possible, eat vegetables, fruit and yoghurt in their natural form.
For both adults and children, regular checks are a must. “You must get a checkup done annually after the age of 30. In high-risk cases, every month is advisable for early detection,” said Dr Reddy.