Sedentary lifestyle and bad eating habits are taking their toll

The number of high blood pressure (BP) patients is increasing in Madurai district. According to doctors, BP levels are soaring in urban and rural areas, and across all age groups. It affects the rich as well as the poor, both men and women.

Heart specialists, general physicians and diet experts regard high BP as the harbinger of ailments in the future. Latest HT (Hyper Tension) statistics obtained from the specially created Non-Communicable Diseases (NCD) screening and prevention wing of the Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project, situated in Ward 23-A of the Government Rajaji Hospital here, reveals a grim scenario for Madurai.

Of 32,707 persons screened by the NCD intervention team last month, 3,412 were diagnosed as confirmed hypertension patients.

In June, of the 25,562 screened, 2,773 patients were found to be suffering from hypertension and were put on treatment. And, if private hospitals, clinics and blood test laboratories are taken into account, the actual number of patients would shoot up.

“The cases detected are all new. So you can imagine the gravity of the situation. People aged above 30 are being screened through this programme, which is carried out by the State government with World Bank support,” S. Natarajan, District Project Coordinator, Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project, said on Wednesday.

No early symptoms

Advocacy for regular BP checks is gaining momentum as there are no early symptoms and by the time it is detected in a patient the damage would have been done.

“Stress, sedentary lifestyle, unhealthy food and overweight pose risks. To undertake mass screening, a separate out-patient facility for conducting BP tests, and for non-communicable diseases such as diabetes and cancer, has been started in all government hospitals and primary health centres,” Dr. Natarajan said.

Diet experts suggest that prevention must start early. Senior dietician Suganya Venkatesan of Apollo Speciality Hospitals suggests that simple health education sessions must be conducted at the Parent Teacher Association meetings in schools. “Home food is always good. But on seeing the large number of families eating out these days, one is not sure how BP can be kept in check,” she worries. According to her, a large number of parents visit her during summer vacation with their obese children for diet counselling. “I advise them that eating healthy food should become a part of their regular lifestyle,” she says.

She gives some simple health tips: eat whole fruit rather than juice; limit fried items such as pappads and pickles, especially when you reach middle age.

V.V. Muthusamy, a hypertension specialist and secretary general of the Indian Society of Hypertension, says “erratic diet” is the root cause for high BP at a young age. “The amount of carbohydrates, fats, proteins, vitamins, minerals and water should be in the right proportion. Too much of anything is not good. High BP is found among many post- menopausal women owing to physiological changes,” he says.

One must have regular BP checks done from the age of 30, and if parents are BP patients, then it must be started earlier, Dr. Muthusamy says.

Digital apparatus

Blood pressure can be checked at home (80 is the normal lower level and the upper limit is 120). The testing apparatus is available for Rs.1,000. It enables the checking of BP and pulse at the click of a button. “When you are relaxed, do the self-recording. The normal BP level should be 120 mmHg on the upper side,” says Dr.Muthusamy. High blood pressure patients are prone to kidney complications.

The NCD prevention team is compiling data through a comprehensive questionnaire to be filled by people coming for tests. The data collected includes education, occupation, monthly family income, habits, diet, edible oil used at home, physical activity level and so on. “The report will be submitted to the Tamil Nadu Health Systems Project for making the right public health intervention,” Dr. Natarajan said.

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