The Shifting Goalposts Of Popular Health Parameters And What Those Mean For Us

Here’s the irony we all seem to live with – while technology is giving us more and more opportunities to stay ahead of time, somewhere it is also making us too dependent on circumstances. The changing focus on health concerns rightly compliments this argument. While every person, irrespective of profession and gender, ideally needs to take care of health and stay fit, this is all the more true for working professionals who deal with long and stressful work hours. Consequently, diabetes, cholesterol, and thyroid top the list of most common health concerns faced by the working class.

Change in Health Parameters

Earlier the parameter set to identify if a person was diabetic, for example, was if the fasting blood sugar level was above 140 (i.e. 140 milligrams of glucose per decilitre of blood). However, in 1997, the Expert Committee on the Diagnosis and Classification of Diabetes Mellitus brought down the number to 126. This was probably more from a preventive point of view wherein; experts felt that sooner a condition was treated better the chances of a person from avoiding the dreaded health condition altogether. Unfortunately, this decision meant that all of a sudden almost 1.6 million people who were otherwise “healthy” (since their blood sugar level was in the previous good range of 126-140) suddenly were declared diabetic. The same goes for measuring cholesterol. While the cholesterol level earlier was considered a risk at 300, over the years as research progressed it came down to 240 and eventually has settled at 200, thus bringing in almost 42 million people in the category of high cholesterol patients.

The other health problem which is seen to greatly impact the population is thyroid. Thyroid, too, was always a concern but never with the same gravity that it demands now. Hypothyroidism affects about 4-5% of the people across the globe and in India, one in ten adults go through it. Statistics state that women are much more at a risk and need to take precautions from early on. Such numbers further promote research and force the medical fraternity to take the results even more seriously. However, the more focus the problems get, the more the number of people seem to “suffer” from it.

Change in the Treatment Outlook

As a result, the treatment patterns also have considerably undergone a change. Everyone now stresses on preventive measures vis-à-vis earlier times when a health problem was treated as and when it occurred. It could be because of the fact that since there is so less time to spare, people prefer taking extra cautions to stay healthy rather than later spend time making visits to a doctor. From the doctors’ perspective, they would prefer avoiding an unwarranted health scare by prescribing medicines to counter a possible situation than having to deal with it at a later stage. It also implies monetary profits for the healthcare business sector. That makes the increasingly lowered threshold levels slightly difficult to accept. But for the common man, the risk seems too great compared to money spent.

Resultant Situation

More importantly, what this situation has resulted in is an over-cautious generation. Lowered ideal health range levels may make people take cognisance of their eating habits, exercise routines, and so on. But they also forget the fact that excessively worrying about a certain health aspect will not take away the problem entirely; while cholesterol is the primary cause of a heart attack it can also occur due to unhealthy lifestyles, smoking, etc. Another example is of the BMI (Body Mass Index). In the beginning, BMI was essentially used as a measure for body weight, and, thus, to basically remain in the healthy bracket. It helped in predicting cardiovascular diseases or nutritional competencies. Now, as with other health parameters expanding their scope, so has this simple figure. Health specialists have lately arrived at a Waist-Hip Ratio (WHR) which when used along with the BMI apparently better predicts more serious disorders such as diabetes, lipid problems, atherosclerosis, and so on.

In some ways, this sounds greatly helpful. Yet, it is also important to remember that over-diagnosis can be problematic as well. Imagine the number of medicines one consumes these days. Somewhere it makes the body immune to certain strains of those medicines and hence when the real need arises, it is doubtful if that medicine will really have a positive effect. Many times, people even ignore the side effects of taking extra medications, just to ward off a future possible concern. The number of treatments available is endless as well. It is thus up to the educated us to decide whether we will allow ourselves to be supposedly called “unhealthy” and where to stop in this vicious circle.

 

Understanding Blood Pressure and Keeping It Normal

Having a normal blood pressure is very important to lead a healthy life. Without the right pressure, which ensures that our blood flows around your circulatory system, the oxygen and nutrients do not get delivered through the arteries to the tissues and organs. The pressure also helps your body’s immunity since it is responsible for delivering white blood cells, antibodies and hormones like insulin. Your body is accustomed to having a certain amount of pressure which is called as the healthy blood pressure level. If this pressure balance gets messed up, you suffer from high or low blood pressure. This causes different effects on your body. A severe change in the numbers can lead to extreme effects. Senior Surgeon Dr. Ramakanta Panda predicts that by the year, 2020, almost one-third of our Indian population will be suffering from high blood pressure.

For a normal reading, the top number needs to be between 90 and 120, and the bottom number needs to be between 60 and 80. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), when your numbers fall between these ranges, it is considered to be normal blood pressure.  So what do these numbers mean? The first number is the amount of pressure in your arteries when your heart muscles contract. This is referred to as systolic pressure. The bottom number is your blood pressure when your heart muscle is between heart beats. This is termed as diastolic pressure. Both numbers are important in determining the state of your heart.

To get an idea about the stage of blood pressure, you need to know the different categories. Here’s how you can differentiate them:

Normal:
Systolic mm Hg (upper number) – less than 120
Diastolic mm Hg (lower number) – less than 80

Prehypertension:
Systolic mm Hg (upper number) – 120-139
Diastolic mm Hg (lower number) – 80-89

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) – Stage 1:
Systolic mm Hg (upper number) – 140-159
Diastolic mm Hg (lower number) – 90-99

High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) – Stage 2:
Systolic mm Hg (upper number) – 160 or higher
Diastolic mm Hg (lower number) – 100 or higher

Hypertensive Crisis (emergency case):
Systolic mm Hg (upper number) – higher than 180
Diastolic mm Hg (lower number) – higher than 110

In the case of low blood pressure, there are no specific numbers for reference. This is because even if your numbers are low, as long as you are not experiencing any symptoms, there is no need for concern. Your doctor can tell you more about your low blood pressure condition depending on the symptoms you are facing.

Causes:

With regards to high blood pressure, there are higher chances of it occurring in patient’s going through pregnancy, thyroid, diabetes, low blood sugar, depression, Parkinson’s disease, heart problems, widening of the blood vessels, heat exhaustion or liver diseases.

Also termed as hypotension, low blood pressure may be the sign of an underlying problem, especially in the elderly. It causes inadequate blood flow to the heart, brain, and other vital organs. Postural hypotension can happen to someone who is rising from a lying down or sitting position. This is considered to be a failure of the cardiovascular system and can lead the nervous system to react inappropriately. The effects of low blood pressure become more intense and evident when it occurs in people belonging to older age groups.

Diagnosis:

Blood pressure is measured with a device known as a sphygmomanometer, consisting of a stethoscope, arm cuff, dial, pump and valve. The pressure reading numbers may increase or decrease depending on factors such as your age, heart condition, activity, emotions, and medicines. One high reading does not mean that you need to worry. To be extremely sure about the diagnosis, you need to be comfortably resting and take readings at least three different times.

For low blood pressure, you may feel symptoms such as dizziness or lightheadedness. Few other underlying conditions could also be the cause. To avail the appropriate treatment, identifying the cause of the low blood pressure is very important. Factors such as medical history, specific symptoms and age will help the doctor perform an efficient evaluation of the system.

Treatment:

If you are suffering from high blood pressure, the first thing you need to do is to adopt healthier lifestyle choices. Maintain a healthy diet and reduce your sodium intake. Ideally, one should not consume more than 2300 mg per day. Have a limited amount of processed foods because these are high in sodium content and have low nutritional value. Reduce your caffeine intake as it plays a sensitive role in your blood pressure readings. Exercise regularly – Even 30 minutes a day can help you maintain a healthy weight and feel good about your body. Indulge in yoga and meditation sessions, these will help you reduce stress after long work days. Keep your alcohol intake under control and quit smoking.

Keep track of the numbers by checking them frequently. Adopting different measures to be absolutely sure. In the case of very high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend certain medication. ACE inhibitors and calcium channel blockers to relax your blood vessels, alpha-blockers to decrease arterial resistance, beta-blockers to decrease heart rate, and diuretics to decrease the amount of fluid in your body are some kinds of medications that usually help but you should not take these without a doctor’s advice. If you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, visual changes, chest pain, loss of muscle control, blood in the urine or dizziness, that means you are in the danger zone and require immediate treatment.

As you age, prevention becomes more important, especially when it comes to this kind of health problems. The American Health Association says that your systolic pressure tends to rise up once you are cross the age of 50. Take regular health check-ups and keep your doctor informed about the smallest of symptoms because the faster you know the better your will be able to take care of your health and keep the numbers under control. As far as you follow a healthy lifestyle, eat proper food and take regular medication, blood pressure is not a fatal disease.