Have you checked your blood pressure lately?
Doctors have declared this May Measurement Month worldwide, in a bid to get people to pay closer attention to their BP and avoid the silent killer, hypertension. It’s called the silent killer because there are no real symptoms — until associated conditions like kidney failure, stroke and even blindness occur.
Hypertension is defined as sustained high blood pressure over five weeks or more. Symptoms can include dizziness, shortness of breath, headaches, fatigue, and sometimes chest pain, palpitations and nosebleeds, although the last three are quite rare.
An estimated 200 million adults in India suffer from hypertension. According to a health ministry statement, only about 40% of urban Indians with hypertension know they have it, and only 20% are taking active measures to keep it in check.
So, on Wednesday, the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) along with other stakeholders signed on as part of May Measurement Month, a worldwide public screening initiative.
STEP 1: Get tested
It was at a health check at his office that Keyur Chotalia, 37, discovered he had abnormally high blood pressure.
It was so high that Chotalia was advised to take a break and return for a fresh reading. When that didn’t help, the doctor advised a thorough check. Chotalia, an account director at a Mumbai media agency, was diagnosed four years ago.
“My mother, too, has high BP, so I should have been getting tested regularly,” he says. Since the diagnosis, medication has helped keep his BP in check, and ease his frequent headaches and lethargy.
Chotalia now has his blood pressure checked once a month, meditates every night and plays table-tennis at work and cricket on weekends as a way to get some exercise.
“I have completely stopped eating items very high in salt, like papads and pickles. I avoid butter, fried and oily food. I want to control my condition and not develop another chronic illness as a result of hypertension,” he says.
If you have no family history of hypertension, aren’t diabetic or don’t have any other lifestyle-related disorder, you must get a checkup done annually after 30. In high-risk cases, every month is advisable for early detection, doctors say.
STEP 2: Keep it down
The idea of getting screened is to get treatment in time.
“Screening without treatment serves no purpose. High blood pressure in most cases requires treatment that includes lifestyle modification and medication. Most people diagnosed need to be on medication for life,” says D Prabhakaran, executive director of the Centre for Chronic Disease Control.
Lifestyle changes such as maintaining a healthy weight, eating fruits and vegetables daily, and exercising for about 30 minutes a day can be as important as medication when it comes to keep blood pressure in check.
“Another important factor is reducing salt intake. Don’t sprinkle salt on your food. Avoid pickles, papads, chutneys and processed foods high in salt and sodium. Even some sweet items such as jams and pies have high salt content, so be aware of what’s in your food,” says Dr Prabhakaran.
If you can’t fit in half an hour of exercise a day, divide it into three 10-minute sessions, says Dr C Venkata S Ram, director of the World Hypertension League, a collective of health bodies working in association with the World Health Organization to control hypertension.
Just how bad are awareness levels? A recent health camp in a Delhi slum found that 37% of subjects with no known health conditions had high blood pressure.
“We deliberately picked supposedly healthy people so we could get an idea of health awareness levels, and the results were shocking,” says Dr Upendra Kaul, chairman of the Batra Heart Centre. The Batra hospital led the initiative.