New Delhi, April 6 (IANS) Changing social norms on smoking and drinking and a fast-food dominated lifestyle are causing a growing number of young people to fall prey to hypertension and a host of other diseases, doctors warn.
This year's theme for World Health Day April 7 is hypertension, or high blood pressure.
The disease is now striking at an earlier age, and even those in their 20s and 30s are affected, doctors say.
"Earlier, it was usually people in their 40s and 50s who reported hypertension. These days, I have at least three or four patients every week in their 20s and 30s with the problem. There has been a 10 to 20 percent rise in such cases over the last few years," Monica Mahajan, senior consultant (Internal Medicine) at Max Hospital, told IANS.
The incidence of coronary heart disease and heart attack among people in their 30s -something unheard of earlier - is also becoming frequent, she added.
According to the World Health Statistics 2012 Report, one in three adults worldwide suffer from hypertension, a condition that causes half the deaths by stroke and heart disease.
Mahajan recalled the case of a 27-year-old BPO employee who came to her with complaints of headache and lack of sleep. "When I checked his blood pressure, it was 150/100, which was high. The triglyceride level was also high, but thankfully his kidney function was ok. The main culprit was his lifestyle."
Ravi (name changed) worked in the late night shift, often ate out and had been smoking for the past eight years. Weekends consisted of binging on alcohol and fast food. A gradual change in lifestyle and a committed effort to exercise every day helped him recover his health.
"Changing social norms on drinking and smoking has definitely increased the risk of hypertension in youngsters. Regular drinking beyond a certain amount and even a small amount of tobacco could prove harmful. Also, diet plays a big role. Extra salt can increase blood pressure," Mahajan said.
Chandan Kedavat, senior consultant (Internal Medicine) at Pushpawati Singhania Research Institute (PSRI), concurred with Mahajan.
"With all the junk food and processed food, where salt is used as a preservative, our salt intake goes up to 15-18 grams a day, when it should ideally be five-six grams a day. Cutting down on excess salt intake can lower BP," Kedavat told IANS.
The normal BP level is 120/80. A reading between 120/80 and 139/89 is termed pre-hypertension (denoting increased risk of hypertension), and BP of 140/90 or above is considered hypertension.
Doctors say that hypertension can lead to a host of illnesses, including damaged organs, kidney failure, aneurysm (blood-filled bulge in the wall of a blood vessel), stroke and heart attack.
"Stress is another cause of hypertension. In a schedule of 12-14 working hours, one has to find ways to de-stress, and exercise at some point of the day to reduce health risks," physician Sunidhi Malhotra said.
And if you are one of those who pop the pain killer for every small headache, beware! Doctors say that over-the-counter self medication can affect the kidneys in the long run - and in turn, make you hypertensive.
"Another thing to keep in mind is that it is not necessary that you will get headaches and have swollen feet if you are hypertensive. Many times, people find out about the condition only incidentally. It's a silent killer. I would advise all youngsters, even in their 20s, to go for regular check-ups, especially if there is hypertension in the family," Kedavat said.
(Azera Parveen Rahman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)