Recently Dr Ajit Menon, a cardiologist at Lilavati Hospital, Bandra, treated a 12-year-old boy for hypertension. The child, doctors suspected, was battling “school-related stress”. “He complained of regular headaches. We put him on anti-hypertension pills, asked his parents to change his diet and taught him to manage the stress,” said Dr Menon.
The boy is among an increasing number of children and teenagers being treated for hypertension. A recent study by the National Institute of Health in the US shows a rise in the number of children between the ages of two and 18 being hospitalised for hypertension (see box). Though no data for India is available, city doctors say the statistics here could not be very different.
Doctors said while some children have high blood pressure because of physiological problems like kidney ailments, lifestyle – poor diet and high stress – is the main cause of hypertension.
“A majority of school and college-going children eat junk food, which has a high quantity of salt in it. Lack of exercise also makes them obese and puts them at a higher risk of hypertension,” said Dr Rohit Agarwal, member of the Indian Academy of Paediatrics. The anxiety to excel in school is also a major cause. “Parents who push children to get good grades are pushing them to a stage where they need medicines to control stress,” said Dr Menon.
The solution is early detection. “Many schools conduct health camps, so teenagers are being diagnosed sooner. They need to make lifestyle changes early to eliminate the risk of damage to the heart and kidneys,” said Dr Ganesh Kumar, head of cardiology, Dr LH Hiranandani Hospital.
Poor diet, stress are major causes: docs
Saloni Shah, 18, (name changed) had regular headaches and dizziness. A visit to the doctor revealed she had high blood pressure. “My parents couldn’t believe I suffered from hypertension at my age,” said Shah.
Shah is not overweight, but eats junk food occasionally. “I think the pressure of exams is also responsible,” said Shah.
Shah’s physician, Dr Pratit Samdani, said, “More teenagers being diagnosed with hypertension is the reason behind early onset of heart disease and strokes.”