‘What you don’t know could kill you’ – charity urges blood pressure checks

People are being urged to avoid the ‘silent killer’ of high blood pressure by getting checked.

The brief checks with GPs or pharmacies are a vital tool in detecting the condition, which can lead to heart attack, stroke, heart and kidney failure and dementia.

“What you don’t know could kill you as high blood pressure, in the vast majority of cases, has no symptoms,” warned Janis Morrissey, Director of Health Promotion with the Irish Heart Foundation.

The national charity is leading the ‘Before Damage is Done’ campaign this month to encourage adults, particularly those aged over 50, to get checked.

Official data shows that 9,652 lives were lost in Ireland due to heart disease and stroke in 2022.

Blood pressure is a measure of how effectively the heart pumps blood around the body – and a high reading, or hypertension, is manageable through medication and lifestyle changes.

A normal reading is about 120 over 80, with high blood pressure defined as 140 over 90 or higher.

“The vast majority of those diagnosed with hypertension have no warning symptoms, so it is vital that blood pressure is checked and kept in check,” said Ms Morrissey.

“It is quick, easy, pain free and does not involve a blood test.”

The campaign targets those who may be living with high blood pressure, the risk of which increases with age.

Everyone aged over 30 should get checked every five years and a GP can assess risk levels and may advise more frequent checks.

“There could be a history of hypertension in your family so a GP will look at cholesterol, weight and lifestyle factors to assess your cardiac health,” added Ms Morrissey.

Dr Angie Brown, Consultant Cardiologist and Medical Director with the Irish Heart Foundation, said: “High blood pressure is the biggest risk factor for stroke, as well as heart conditions, heart attacks and dementia.

“A quarter of people having strokes are under the age of 65 so something like this can have devastating consequences not only for someone’s health, but also on their quality of life and financial independence if they are forced to stop working.

“Thousands of local pharmacies across Ireland offer free blood pressure checks, while most GPs will carry them out during general consultations.”

Prescribed medication is a key tool in managing hypertension, but lifestyle changes such as healthy eating, increasing physical activity, quitting smoking and limiting alcohol are also crucial.

Dr David McConaghy, the Irish College of General Practitioners/HSE Integrated Care Lead for Prevention said: “The ICGP supports this campaign to raise awareness about blood pressure and encourages people to attend their GP practice for a cardiovascular review.”

Sinead Mc Cool, Acting Head of Professional Services at the Irish Pharmacy Union, said the IPU is also backing the initiative.

The Irish Heart Foundation, in partnership with Medicare LifeSense, is encouraging blood pressure checks ‘Before Damage is Done’ in participating pharmacies in May and June.

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