World Hypertension Day will be observed on Saturday. For the past five years, the theme has been ‘Know Your Numbers’. The theme has been retained as there is little awareness of and efforts to spread the message on the need for controlling blood pressure, say specialists.
A study in China found that the death among those with hypertension and the SARS-CoV-2 infection during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic was 19%, whereas it was 6% among those with diabetes, says A. Muruganathan, past president of the Hypertension Society of India and Governor of the Indian chapter of American College of Physicians.
“At a time when the COVID-19 pandemic is raging across the country, the message is to control blood pressure,” he says. “In India, the incidence, morbidity and mortality is three times higher than diabetes. But we don’t have enough hypertension specialists. Across the country, there are less than a dozen specialists.”
A disease that is common but causes three times more mortality, is more intense, and has a high rate of morbidity and mortality remains neglected, he rues. “We must have a two-year course after MBBS so that they are certified as specialists,” he adds. Dr. Muruganathan says there is a need for a centre of excellence for hypertension, similar to what is available in the United States. In conditions like pregnancy, it could prove life-threatening if the blood pressure is not under control, he says.
“COVID-19 can also cause hypertension and there are a dozen reasons for this. If hypertension is under control, COVID will be a normal event. The key message is to control the co-morbid conditions,” he says.
During the lockdown, many people did not go out to get medicine for hypertension. Since there were fewer opportunities to exercise, their blood pressure tended to rise. “Death due to COVID-19 is around 1 lakh but we lose over 17 lakh people to hypertension annually. It is a big economic burden for India. So we need to focus on hypertension and hypertension clinics. The same cuff cannot be used for all persons. We must have three different sized cuffs in the clinic. Also, the BP apparatus must be validated every year so that the readings are accurate,” he says.