The more urbanised we are, the more we suffer the bane of a sedentary lifestyle, increased stress and a bad diet. This has led to an alarming increase in non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart disease, stroke and kidney failure caused by a combination of risk factors. Hypertension is the common denominator in all these conditions.
No wonder that the World Health Organization (WHO) has chosen ‘Blood pressure — take control’ as the theme for this year’s World Health Day 2013, observed on April 7.
Across the globe, more than 40 per cent of adults aged 25 and above had high blood pressure as per WHO estimates in 2008.
Doctors and health experts say that increased blood pressure levels have been one of the causes for stroke, coronary heart disease, peripheral vascular disease, renal impairment, retinal haemorrhage and visual impairment.
C.N. Manjunath, director, Sri Jayadeva Institute of Cardiovascular Sciences and Research in Bangalore, explains that untreated blood pressure could lead to bulges in blood vessels, increasing their chances of bursting. “The damage in blood vessels could lead to stroke, kidney failure, blindness, dementia and various other complications.”
Doctors add that early detection and effective management of high blood pressure can help avoid these adverse effects and reduce premature mortality.
Referring to the global action plan for the prevention and control of NCDs (2013-20), Pavana Murthy, regional team leader, WHO, says the action plan aims to achieve a 25 per cent reduction in premature mortality by reducing the incidence of NCDs.
Reducing hypertension can go a long way in tackling NCDs, Dr. Manjunath emphasises. “Rather than focussing on treating blood pressure, we need to focus on keeping hypertension at bay, which can be done by taking up simple steps such as engaging in physical activity, exercising regularly and reducing stress levels.”
Besides, healthy lifestyle modifications could help slow down the ageing of blood vessels and prevent them from stiffening.
Dr. Murthy says there is a need to evolve public policy to prevent hypertension, as its treatment can be lifelong and the complications can push people into poverty.
However, public health experts point out that there is a need for a multisectoral approach. Says Giridhara R. Babu of the Public Health Foundation of India, various departments need to work together and “promote healthy policies” to reduce this problem. “For instance, the civic body can create an environment for walking, bicycling, sports and other physical activities.”
He also points out that hypertension is no longer a “rich man’s burden” — 80 per cent of deaths from NCDs occur in low and middle income countries.