It is high time to count high blood pressure as a public health emergency in India, said experts here on the occasion of World Hypertension Day, observed annually on May 17.
According to the health experts, it could be a key strategy to avert or minimise the impending super storm of non-communicable diseases (NCDs) such as heart attacks, stroke, cancers, chronic respiratory diseases, and diabetes.
Although easy to diagnose and relatively simple to treat with low cost medicines, high blood pressure is now a full-fledged health crisis with at least one in four adults suffering from this condition in the country.
It is also considered the world’s largest killer, responsible for at least 8.5 million deaths and 218 million disabilities adjusted life years (DALY). Worldwide at least 1.4 billion people live with this chronic condition.
In India, untreated and uncontrolled blood pressure has become a leading cause for premature death and disability.
“More than 63 per cent of all deaths in India are due to NCDs and a large number of these deaths are linked to the underlying condition of hypertension,” said Dr Pankaj Bharadwaj, Additional Professor, AIIMS Jodhpur, at a brainstorming session, held in the national capital, to stop the alarming rise of hypertension.
“Although incremental efforts for screening have been made in recent years, among people with high blood pressure, only half have been diagnosed and of those, only one in 10 have blood pressure under control,” he said, adding it is because discontinuing or being irregular with BP medicines, leaves people without a protective cover.
Diabetes, another NCD and affecting a whopping 7.7 crore Indians, also contributes significantly to high blood pressure levels.
A study of more than 3,000 patients of Type 2 diabetes conducted by Amrita Hospital, Kochi, revealed that six out of ten diabetes patients suffer from uncontrolled blood pressure, with three out of those six having no prior history of hypertension.
The incidence of retinopathy, peripheral neuropathy and peripheral arterial disease of the lower limb are also much higher among diabetes patients suffering from uncontrolled blood pressure.
Further, in people with diabetes, coexisting hypertension can triple the risk of coronary artery disease (CAD), double the total mortality and stroke risk, and can be responsible for up to 75 per cent of all cardiovascular ailments, revealed the study published in the journal Frontiers in Public Health.
The recently released National Family Health Survey (NFHS) 5 report also reveals several alarming trends. Among them, the growing concern is that more and more younger people are falling prey to hypertension.
The findings also lend credence to the fact that although easy and affordable to treat, treatment adherence rate is the poorest. Only about 7 per cent women and 6 per cent men who have been diagnosed with high blood pressure are on regular medication.
Experts claim that uncontrolled hypertension — a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke – is probably one of the main reasons why over the last decade, cardiovascular diseases have emerged as the top killer in India.
“A nation-wide awareness campaign for prevention, treatment and adherence of hypertension is the need of the hour,” said Dr Sudarsan Mandal, Deputy Director General, NPCDCS, from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.