One billion people in the world suffer from high blood pressure – 66 percent more than 30 years ago. The reason: "the globalization of unhealthy living". Dr Marianne Koch tells us how to tackle this problem.
DW: High blood pressure, or hypertension, accounts for the deaths of more than nine million people each year, according to the World Health Organisation (WHO). What are the most common reasons for it?
Dr. Marianne Koch:In western industrialized societies, the growing tendency towards obesity, lack of exercise and constant stress are the key reasons, alongside our own genetic predisposition. In developing countries, obesity also plays a big role.
Why is hypertension so dangerous?
At first, people don't notice that they have high blood pressure and because they don't feel it, they think they're healthy. And yet, it's already having a damaging effect on their blood vessels, especially their arteries. And when our arteries suffer from arteriosclerosis, they start to clog up and harden. This has a negative knock-on effect on all of the body's organs. And the brain and the heart, which require the biggest supply of blood and are the most vital organs, suffer the most.
What can hypertension sufferers do to help keep their blood pressure down?
The first step is to get regular check-ups. If your family has a history of the male line suffering from heart attacks young, at the age of 50, or if your mother died from a stroke, then you can assume that you have a certain genetic predisposition and that you have to take care. You have to keep an eye on risk factors, such as a lack of exercise, constantly sitting in front of a computer or in the car rather than doing sport. It's also important to alleviate stress, which has increased an awful lot in western countries, also because people are worried about making a living. It can help to do relaxation exercises and sport, but you can also become more conscious of stressful situations and then see how you can reduce that stress. And, of course, obesity. That's one of the biggest dangers facing people. Some children in our societies already have hypertension because of their diet, because of convenience foods, the lack of healthy food at home, and the fact that many children are also under a lot of pressure, for example at school.
DW: How high should your blood pressure be and what's the ideal level?
The optimum blood pressure for people aged between 15 and 75 years of age is approximately 130 to 135, for the top number, the systolic number, and between 85 to 90, for the bottom number, the diastolic value. The top one measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats and the lower one records the state between heartbeats when the arteries relax and refill with blood, thus creating pressure. Elderly people above the age of 75 can have slightly higher blood pressure and it should be a lot lower among children and young people.
Dr. Marianne Koch is internist, writer, moderator and patron of the German Hypertension League, DHL. www.hochdruckliga.de
Interview: Marita Brinkmann