High blood pressure, commonly known as hypertension (HTN), is highly prevalent. It is often called the ‘Silent Killer,’ since it may go unrecognised until some other serious conditions root from it, e.g., stroke, heart attack etc.
Modern lifestyle changes have led to a high rate of overweight and poor food choices, causing the HTN cases to skyrocket.
What statistics say
Many researchers opined that the percentage of people having HTN may eventually hit 90 per cent.
While we are aware of HTN in older people, the same problem in young people is often ignored. The reason being we do not really associate HTN with that age group.
But the data paints a different picture. It shows between 20-40 years, 1 out of every 8 adults has HTN. Children and teens are afflicted too. 2015 stats show that among children aged 6 years, the prevalence of hypertension was 4.0 per cent. Among teens, it was at least 3.0 per cent with a peak of 8.0 per cent among those 14 years old. This is only the tip of the iceberg since a lot of cases remain undiagnosed.
Why are young people getting affected?
Why so many youths are being affected? Again, the discussion points to rising obesity as the main culprit. Drug abuse, hormonal contraceptives in females, sleep disorders, kidney disease etc are also contributing factors.
Family history of cardiovascular diseases or kidney problems, low birth weight, and maternal smoking all raise the risk. On the other hand, children who were breastfed have a lower risk.
Young people with HTN are at a high risk of health complications. According to Dr Wanpen Vongpatanasin from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, it’s important to have the condition treated as early as possible.
Child can have HTN too
If a child, teen or young adult is diagnosed with HTN, the first approach is always lifestyle modification. This should include exercise and diet.
The American Heart Association and National High Blood Pressure Education Programme recommend between 30 to 60 minutes of moderate aerobic physical activity at least 05 days a week. Sedentary activity, i.e. work while sitting down needs to be cut to two hours per day.
Dr Wanpen Vongpatanasin suggested that for diet - vegetables, fresh fruits, nonfat dairy are the best options. Reducing salt intake is also recommended.
Scientists at University of Cincinnati also showed positive results in favor of DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diet. Their study revealed significant decrease in blood pressure in adolescents with DASH compared to normal diet.
If lifestyle changes fail to produce expected results, doctor may initiate medications to control HTN. It must be taken exactly as prescribed.
Prevention is always better. So, we should take steps to lower the risk of HTN in young people. Maintaining a healthy weight is imperative, not too low, not too high. We can check with the doctor about the ideal weight for us.
Being active is helpful. This can be moderate-intensity aerobic exercise at least two and half hours per week, or vigorous-intensity aerobic exercise for approximately one and a half hours per week.
Examples of aerobic exercise include brisk walking or anything that increases the oxygen requirement, thereby pushing the heart.
A nutritious and healthy diet is essential. This should have a sufficient amount of nutrients, not more or less. Fibres, fruits, legumes etc. should be part of the regular diet.
Unhealthy habits, like smoking, and drug abuse must be stopped. Getting enough sleep is required, and stress management is critical. Stress management techniques include exercising, listening to music, focusing on something calm or peaceful, and meditating.
Check your blood pressure regularly
Regular tracking of blood pressure is strongly recommended, at home as well as during doctor visits. Teens and children with obesity or other risk factors for HTN should have their blood pressure measured at every doctor visit.
Above all, awareness about the risk of HTN in young people is crucial. This is not yet completely embedded in our minds, and as such warning signs may sometimes be missed, provided there are any.
Many young adults with HTN complain about headaches, nosebleeds etc. which are often seen as trivial matters. However, we need to be aware of the possibility that they might have HTN and seek medical support.