Young people 'not taking health seriously' as increase in hypertension reported by doctors

Youngsters are aware that too much salt and sugar in their diets is bad but they don't see that it can lead to a spiral of ill-health, doctors warn.

Excessive salt is a leading cause of high blood pressure. Rosanne Olson / Workbook Stock

Ignoring health warnings about sugar and salt intake is leading more young people to develop hypertension, putting them at risk of having a stroke, doctors have said.

Signs of a potential stroke or heart attack are being picked up more in young people by doctors carrying out routine tests, Dubai Health Authority said on Monday.

Family doctors noted their experiences during a social media health clinic that invited patients to speak with medical specialists via Twitter.

A greater number of health screenings could be behind the spike, doctors said, but they also warned that an unhealthy lifestyle was equally to blame for more young people in their 20s and 30s being diagnosed with hypertension, also known as high blood pressure.

“So many patients tell us they were aware of the hazards of sugar and excessive salt but they did not take it seriously,” said Dr Nada Al Mulla, a DHA family medicine specialist.

“Over the last few years, more younger patients are being detected with hypertension. Our parents and grandparents did not consume processed food and canned food that are high in preservatives and sodium, which is one of the main triggers for hypertension.

“They led an active lifestyle. Today’s dependence on junk food and canned food coupled with lack of exercise is the main reason for lifestyle diseases such as hypertension.”

If left untreated, high blood pressure can lead to strokes, as it weakens blood vessels around the brain, causing them to rupture.

Heart failure and kidney disease are also related, with modern lifestyle and poor diet a major driving force behind high blood pressure, which is problematic as there are very few visible symptoms with the condition.

“The problem is that, globally, the fast-food, junk food, inactive lifestyle culture is very prevalent today,” Dr Al Mulla added.

“So many patients tell us they were aware of the hazards of sugar and excessive salt but they did not take it seriously.

“The next thing they know, they are admitted with high sugar levels and are diabetic.

“As long as people portion-control and consider such meals as treats rather than everyday meals, and lead an active lifestyle, they do not need to deprive themselves.”

The results of routine health screenings for South Asian male visa applicants in Al Ain were published in 2015, following a study into the prevalence of hypertension. Of the 1,800 men who took part, hypertension was more common than men in their home countries.

In Indian men screened in the UAE, 34.6 per cent were found to have high blood pressure, compared to 22.8 per cent in India. Pakistani men working here showed a prevalence of 28.2 per cent versus 18 per cent at home, and 28.8 per cent of Bangladeshi workers in the UAE had hypertension diagnosed, compared to an average of just 11.3 per cent in their homeland.

In the wake of their findings, researchers at the Institute of Public Health, College of Medicine and Health Sciences, UAE University, recommended that blood pressure, height and body mass measurements should be included in data collected from medical screening tests when expatriates renew their visas.

Abir Askoul, a clinical dietician at Rashid Hospital, said to prevent and manage hypertension, simple steps can be taken.

“People should eat a diet high in fruits, vegetables and whole grains,” she said. “They should limit their intake of saturated fats and trans-fats, and limit the amount of sodium in your diet.

“It is important to maintain a healthy weight and exercise regularly. Tobacco cessation is vital because tobacco is a major risk factor for developing hypertension as well as several other diseases.”

Stress can also play a role in worsening the condition.

“Stress precipitates and worsens the health problems produced by hypertension,” said Dr Sanjay Rajdev, consultant in interventional cardiology at NMC Speciality Hospital, Abu Dhabi.

“This is the reason why lifestyle modification and stress-busting exercises like yoga, pranayam and relaxation of body and mind are being advocated as a holistic approach to its treatment.”

Dr Rajdev said the rise of technology is also having an impact on activity levels in young people, who are developing sedentary habits earlier in life.

“Social media is largely responsible for children being less physically active, almost universally,” he added.

“It has children spellbound, and much less physically active than earlier generations.”

What is hypertension? 

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, often does not have noticeable symptoms but, if left untreated, it can increase a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke. If blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on blood vessels, the heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes. Persistent hypertension can increase the risk of serious conditions such as heart disease; heart attacks; strokes; heart failure; peripheral arterial disease; aortic aneurysms; kidney disease; and vascular dementia.

Two numbers are used to measure blood pressure. Systolic pressure is the higher of the two and the one that measures the force at which the heart pumps blood around the body. The diastolic pressure - the lower number - is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. They're both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

Generally, high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher, while ideal blood pressure is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. Low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower. A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean that a person is at risk of developing hypertension if measures are not taken to get it under control.