This disease is a paradox—easy to detect and treat, but only a few get diagnosed. Even among those who are diagnosed, fewer end up getting the right treatment. High blood pressure is also defined by the rule of 50—fifty per cent of people who have it are aware of it; of these, only 50 per cent seek treatment; of those who seek treatment, only 50 per cent succeed in managing the disease well.
“In India, hypertension or raised blood pressure is one of the leading causes of premature deaths. The disease is directly responsible for 29 per cent of all stroke and 24 per cent of heart attacks in India,” Balram Bhargava, secretary, department of health research, and director general, ICMR said. He was was speaking at the launch of May Measurement Month—a month-long global campaign to raise awareness on high blood pressure and its prevention. The campaign is being led by the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), International Society of Hypertension, Centre for Chronic Disease Control, Public Health Foundation of India, Association of Physicians of India, and over 50 institutions across the country.
“It is now advised that everyone should get their blood pressure checked at the age of 25,” he said.
For a disease that can be prevented by making simple lifestyle modifications, such as including 30 minutes of physical activity, and making minor dietary changes—avoiding high sodium products such as pickles, papads and chutneys—hypertension claims ten per cent of all deaths in India.
“The prevalence of high blood pressure is rapidly increasing among both urban and rural populations, though it is definitely higher in the former. Around 2.6 lakh Indians die in India due to this 'silent killer'. Among chronic diseases, it is now the most prevalent one in India. This stresses the need for its effective management and control, and highlights the huge impact it can have on the burden of cardiovascular diseases,” said Dorairaj Prabhakaran, executive director, Centre for Chronic Disease Control, PHFI.
The huge burden of disease in India could be attributed to lifestyle reasons. “There is a genetic basis for the disease, but it is triggered by unhealthy lifestyle,” he added.
Besides, there are several myths around the disease that need to be dispelled. “There are WhatsApp messages suggesting that high blood pressure is the result of a 'conspiracy by pharma companies' to sell medicines. But that is not true. Very few who are on medication for high blood pressure can reverse the disease and afford to stop the medication. The medication needs to continue for life. And it is not expensive. It's a generic drug that costs around 50 paise,” said Prabhakaran.
Even as experts at the event stressed on healthy lifestyle practices such as getting seven-eight hours of sleep, avoiding late night dinners, and processed foods high in sodium, the need for early—and accurate—detection was also emphasised.
According to the latest guidelines issued by the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association, the blood pressure is considered normal when it is less than 120/80, “elevated” when it is between 120-129 mm Hg/and less than 80, and 130-139/80-89 mm Hg is stage one hypertension.
However, many experts, including Bhargava, said for the Indian population, the new guidelines should be taken with a “pinch of salt”. “For Indians, 120/80 is considered normal, and 140/90 is high. For diabetics, the cut-off is lower at 130/90,” he said.