High blood pressure or hypertension can be manifest in not so common ways, such as a difficulty to walk up the stairs or lift something.
According to researchers from Harvard Medical School, systolic blood pressure or ' BP when the heart is contracting ' ups the risk of disabilities later in life. These would include the inability to lift objects, walk up or down stairs, or bathe.
Common manifestations of hypertension are strokes, heart failure, kidney failure and coronary artery disease. Yet, in the article published in Hypertension: Journal of the American Heart Association, the authors speak of the other symptoms.
"This adds another dimension to how we think about hypertension," says Ihab Hajjar, lead author of the study. "We always think of it as a risk factor for CVDs and heart attacks. But this study shows elevated blood pressure also tends to affect our independence and functional abilities."
Says senior cardiologist of Apollo Hospital, Deepak Natarajan : "High BP is an individual health risk for old people above the age of 70 years. It not only increases risk of heart diseases, but also causes dementia and limits cognitive functions. Controlling BP is the single most important factor. For those aged above 70 years, BP should be around 140/80 mmHg. They must not miss their BP medications, reduce their salt intake and do meditation."
This study has serious implications for India . Here , over 10 crore adults suffer from high BP. Some estimates say the disease affects about 32 million rural Indians and 34 million urban Indians.
The 2006 World Population Prospects gives that by 2050, the number of Indians aged above 80 will increase more than six times from the current figure of 78 lakh to nearly 5.14 crore. Besides this, the number of people over 65 years of age in the country is expected to quadruple from 6.4 crore in 2005 to 23.9 crore.
In the Harvard study, researchers examined data from the Charleston Heart Study. This began in South Carolina in 1960 and collected its last survival data in 2001. The researchers investigated hypertension as a potential reason as to why people age differently. Hajjar and his colleagues analyzed data from 999 study participants.
The researchers categorized study members as normal (BP less than 140/90 mm Hg without using BP drugs) or hypertensive (BP at or above 140/90 mm Hg or taking medications to control it). Functional tests measured everything from physical strength (pushing, pulling, lifting) to mobility indexes (walking, using a wheelchair), to personal-hygiene ability (bathing, grooming, dressing).
The team discovered that increases in systolic BP over time was associated with functional disability, even among those who are stroke-free and with no other major diseases linked to high BP.