Mahatma Gandhi was hypertensive: What could have been the cause of his hypertension?

Being of lean physique, it would appear that Mahatma Gandhi would be a fit person. The iconic image of the Mahatma leading the Dandi March, where he seems to be striding ahead of the others, certainly gives an impression of a person who is physically fit.

But the health records, released to commemorate his 150th birth anniversary indicate otherwise. Gandhi ji had hypertension and was reportedly on medication (sarpagandha or Rauwolfia serpentina).

We have his ECG tracing done at Calcutta (now Kolkata) dated 28th Oct., 1937. The record show that his heart rate was 72 per minute and was regular. On 26th October, he had very early and slight fullness of neck veins, which were not present on 28th Oct. His BP reading on 26th Oct. was 194/130; on 28th Oct. the BP was 150/98. He was prescribed adequate rest by the doctor “Adequate mental and emotional rest with 8 hours restful sleep in 24 hours are indicated” as the records show.

Let’s try to analyse his health status based on this information.

Mahatma Gandhi had hypertension and his ECG shows no left ventricular hypertrophy. There were only a few anti-hypertensive medications available then. Also, echocardiography was not available at that time.

Lifestyle factors, in particular obesity, are determinants of BP levels. Excess of body fat is a major factor predisposing to hypertension. Excess body fat, especially central obesity, is associated with metabolic syndrome and type 2 diabetes. This is ruled out.

Arteriosclerosis is ruled out as his diastolic BP was very high. In arteriosclerosis, the systolic BP is raised more than diastolic BP.

His BP on 26th Oct. was 194/130; on 28th Oct. it was 150/98. This is accelerated HT.

Gandhi ji lived by the principles of satya, ahimsa, sarvodaya and satyagraha. Yet he was hypertensive.

He had been advised adequate rest with adequate sleep by the doctor.

Could the stress of the country’s freedom struggle have been a factor in the genesis of his hypertension?

We can only speculate.

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