There was a family event that day. While cleaning up, Ranjini Hiriyur bent down. Suddenly, she felt extremely tired and her head started spinning. She went to sleep thinking it would pass.
But when the 49-year-old homemaker from Bengaluru woke up, she found that she couldn’t speak. At the hospital, the doctor informed her that her blood pressure had shot up, with her systolic reading going up to 220, a dangerously high blood pressure reading.
Over the next few days, she walked around in the sun at the same time for five days and got her blood pressure checked at a nearby clinic. Her hypertension was then confirmed.
Blood flows through the ‘pipes’ of our body’s circulatory system in the same way. The pressure with which it flows against the walls of the blood vessels (usually in the large arteries) is called blood pressure.
When blood pressure is measured on two different days, if the systolic blood pressure reading on both days is ≥ 140 mmHg and/or the diastolic blood pressure reading on both days is ≥ 90 mmHg, then the person is diagnosed with hypertension.
Hypertension is a common chronic condition characterised by the pressure exerted by the blood in the arteries staying high. It is dubbed the ‘silent killer’ because people neither see nor feel any sign of the illness.
“Earlier, I used to feel dizzy a few times,” says Hiriyur. “During a visit to the hospital, I was told that my blood pressure was high, but I didn’t pay much attention to this. The smell of hospitals made me dizzy, so when I fainted in a hospital another time, the doctor informed me that my readings were high. This time, I had to take it seriously.”
Most people do not experience symptoms like Hiriyur. So how do we know if our blood pressure is out of control?
“You must be checked regularly,” says Dr Jolly Anil John, assistant professor in general medicine at MS Ramaiah Medical College. “That’s the only way. Most people with hypertension are asymptomatic, but some may have headaches at the back of the head, which they usually ignore. Women can have dizziness.”
Some causes of hypertension are beyond our control. For instance, the older the person, the more likely they are to have hypertension.
Before the age of 55, men have a greater chance of having high blood pressure. But the situation is different for women. “A women’s menses protects her from conditions like stroke and MI (myocardial infarction),” says Dr John. “But once they are post-menopausal, both (men and women) are equally at risk. In fact, sometimes the likelihood in women can be higher.”
Family history is one such uncontrollable factor; there is an increased risk if one or more close relatives have hypertension before the age of 60. “My father also had high blood pressure since he was 37,” Hiriyur says. “Even while he was at rest, his blood pressure would spike suddenly. He understood his blood pressure variations better than the doctor. It is a hereditary problem.”
Salt may increase water retention in the blood causing a high flow in the arterial vessels. Hiriyur has almost given up on salt even though her doctor advised her to only reduce its intake. “Even while I’m laughing, even while I’m simply lying down, my blood pressure soars,” she says. “So I take very little salt.”
But this depends on the individual’s genetic ability to salt response (how a person’s body is genetically programmed to react to salt). Up to 50-60 per cent of patients are salt sensitive and therefore develop hypertension.
In addition, conditions such as metabolic syndrome, kidney disease and thyroid problems also cause high blood pressure.
Taking care of mental health also helps maintain blood pressure. Dr John says that stress directly affects blood pressure. Speaking about young entrepreneurs, she says, “Their blood pressures are atrociously high. They are young men in their thirties. Sleepless nights are another reason why BP goes up.”
Dr Sanjeev K, a 62-year-old veterinary doctor in Bengaluru, believes that his good humour has helped keep his blood pressure under control. “I’m an easy-going guy, so I don’t stress myself out for anything,” he says. “I laugh a lot and make everybody laugh. Keep laughing. That’s a real stressbuster.”
Although a doctor must be consulted to treat hypertension, making some changes in lifestyle may help control rising blood pressure. Dr John also recommends getting a check-up at regular intervals of two months with ECG and ECHO to ensure that pressure isn’t rising.
High BP home remedies
Avoiding salt and sodium intake is one of the first dietary changes you can make. Salt thickens the blood, thereby increasing blood pressure. “Activity is a must,” says Dr John. “Keep your weight in check. Don’t use too many of those salty, pickled foods. Eating potato snacks, chips, mixture — all the fried snacks with a lot of salt — must be reduced to a minimum. Vegetables and fruits are good. As for red meat, only a little cut is okay. You can eat the white meat.”
A few other non-pharmacological methods that work include increasing potassium intake, moderate to no intake of alcohol, avoiding smoking and getting restful sleep.
“I can never compromise on sleep,” Hiriyur says. “If I’m sleep-deprived, my BP will remain high the whole day. I must sleep more for the two days to rest. I need seven to eight hours of uninterrupted sleep every day.”
With prescribed treatment along with physical activity and changes in diet, it is possible to keep blood pressure under control and, in some cases, even bring it back to normal. The key is to get your blood pressure checked regularly which will help you catch the condition early and take adequate measures.