Hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure, affects tens of millions of people worldwide and is responsible for an estimated 7.5 million deaths per year, according to the World Health Organization. Canadians, unfortunately, are no exception. According to government statistics, hypertension is a leading source of disability and is something that roughly 25% of Canadians live with on a daily basis.
Unlike other diseases, which tend to present themselves through triggers such as pain, hypertension is fairly asymptomatic, meaning there are often no warning signs. Many people will go about their day-to-day activities not realizing something is wrong, potentially worsening their condition by continuing to engage in poor lifestyle choices, such as eating too much salt or not exercising on a regular basis.
In Canada, an estimated one million men and women have hypertension but don't know it, increasing their risk of stroke, heart attack or heart failure.
Young Adults, Children Also Susceptible
As with most adverse health conditions, hypertension primarily impacts older people, particularly seniors. However, new research suggests that more young people may be at risk.
Researchers at the American Stroke Association came to this conclusion recently discovering that the biggest predictor of individuals experiencing stroke in their early years was due to high blood pressure accompanied by another health risk factor, such as obesity, smoking, elevated levels of bad cholesterol, or family health history. Dr. Sharon Poisson, who led the research and works as an associate professor of neurology at the University of Colorado, said the findings speak to just how dangerous hypertension is, even for people in their prime years of life.
"People in their 20s and 30s aren't typically thinking that high blood pressure or diabetes are things they need to worry about," Poisson explained. "Yet they really do make an impact on stroke risk."
Tragically, even children aren't immune. Nadia Khan, president at Hypertension Canada, said that around 1 in 50 kids under the age of 18 in Canada have high blood pressure.
With May being National Hypertension Awareness Month – and World Hypertension Day recognized May 17 – here are a few things you can do to reduce your children's risk:
Get Them Screened
Most young people don't think high blood pressure affects them. However, high-sodium diets and low levels of exercise, make high blood pressure a risk in all age groups. The easiest thing to do is get yourself and your child's blood pressure taken. Ideally, readings should be less than 120/180. Anything above that is considered at risk of having hypertension.
Check For Family History
If your parents or grandparents suffer from hypertension, you and your children may be more likely to as well. If so, you may need to be more proactive about prevention. Be sure to ask.
Maintain or Adopt an Active Lifestyle
Diet and exercise are the key ingredients to maintaining a healthy lifestyle. Make sure to stay active with your children and encourage them to participate in more physical activities like soccer or biking. It's also important to limit high-sodium foods, such as chips, canned soups and certain breads. Make sure to read nutrition labels.
For additional tips and resources, visit Hypertension Canada's website.