Ignorance can never be bliss and this is what proved fatal for 50-year-old Amit Gupta, who kept ignoring the urgency to visit a doctor despite suffering from severe high blood pressure also known as hypertension.
Instead of going in for specialized treatment, Gupta started popping pills on his own whenever he felt the problem of anxiety due to hypertension.
Within a year, Gupta not just suffered two strokes but the blood vessel of his eyes also thickened, causing partial blindness. When he finally visited a doctor, he was told that due to consuming excess unprescribed medicines, his kidneys had almost stopped functioning. A few months after, Gupta died of renal failure.
Medical experts globally say that self-medication on many occasions can cause more harm than good. Self-medication has potential adverse interaction with prescription medication, especially in hypertension, which patients fail to understand.
"Hypertension should never be considered a minor health problem. The disease itself causes heart attacks, paralysis, renal failure, thickening of the arteries and several other diseases if ignored. A patient in such a situation should never think of self-medication," said Dr.Pradeep Gadge, Chief Diabetologist at Mumbai's Gadge's Diabetes Care Centre.
Noting several myths and misconceptions as the main reason for self-medication, Gupta said Indians are still are under the impression that it is an old age disease, that high blood pressure can be controlled with simple medication, that women are less likely to get hypertension than men and simple control of salt will protect them from the ill-effects of blood pressure.
According to the union health ministry, at least 40% of the people in cities and 20% in rural India suffer from hypertension and the number is fast increasing due a sedentary lifestyle and rising desire to earn more in a short period.
Dr.Gagdge who is also a visiting diabetologist at Breach Candy and Seven Hills Hospital, said: "If hypertension is left untreated it can cause aneurysms, heart attacks and strokes without giving any early signs and symptoms. Hypertension isn't usually accompanied by any symptoms, which makes it mandatory for the patients to go for a check-up at least once in a week."
Recent studies show that hypertension is likely to end up being an epidemic in the near future, and approximately one-third of India's population will suffer from it by 2020. Currently it is responsible for 7.1 million global deaths annually.
Globally, South Africa has the highest number of high blood pressure patients.
Dr.Pratik Soni, senior consultant of cardiology at Mumbai-based Wockhardt Hospitals, said that hypertensive people are most of times asymptomatic and therefore it is advisable for them to get their blood pressure checked regularly especially if there is hypertension in the family or anyone is overweight.
Calling the disease a silent killer, Dr.Soni said that hypertension is no more restricted to the aged population but has started occurring among the younger ones.
"Change in the lifestyle of the youth, lack of nutritious food, steroids and oral contraceptives are among the major reasons that are causing hypertension among the young population," said Dr.Soni.
Statistics say that at least 33% of the Indian population remains unaware that it is a patient of hypertension which largely includes the younger population.
Explaining the several other reasons behind self-medication, Dr.R.K. Singal, director and head of internal medicine at Delhi based B.L. Kapoor hospital said: "When a person comes to know about the problem of hypertension and blood pressure, it is very late. To avoid the expenditure on the medicines, people start self medication and at the end suffer from premature death and disability."
Dr.Vipul Gupta, head of neurointerventional surgery at Gurgaon-based Medanta Medicity, recommended that adults should not consume more than five grams of salt per day. Sodium content is high in processed commercial food and accordingly hypertensives should be cautious in consuming packaged food.
"People who are diagnosed with hypertension, apart from proper prescribed medicines, should concentrate on fruit and vegetables each day, avoid fat, limit the amount of sugar, quit smoking and most importantly reduce the stress levels and take time to relax," said Gupta.