1 in 2 heart attacks and strokes linked to high blood pressure warns leading local health charity

Today sees the launch of Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke’s (NICHS) new blood pressure awareness campaign, which comes as a result of the charity’s concern around the number of people living with undetected high blood pressure and the fact that 1 in 2 heart attacks and strokes are linked to the condition.

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Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health at NICHS says; “Approximately 280,317 people, or 15% of the population here in Northern Ireland, are living with high blood pressure¹ but there is a significant proportion of people, around 1 in every 8, who have high blood pressure and do not realise it². This gives us great cause for concern due to the link between heart attacks and strokes and high blood pressure and is something our new campaign aims to change.”

“Undetected high blood pressure is often known as ‘The Silent Killer’ because it rarely causes any physical symptoms or warning signs and is often only discovered after someone suffers a stroke or heart attack. The only way to know what your blood pressure is, and if it is high, is to have it measured, and that is what we are urging the public to do through our new campaign.”

“We want to raise awareness about the seriousness of high blood pressure and its link to strokes and heart attacks. We are encouraging people to check their blood pressure, so they know their blood pressure numbers and, in turn, can take action to reduce their risk of a serious health event by seeking treatment where necessary. A blood pressure check is simple and only takes a few minutes, but it really could help save your life.”

Fidelma continues, “Many people associate high blood pressure with older people, but high blood pressure can affect anyone, at any age. It is important people are not complacent about their health just because they are in a younger age bracket.”

“There are several ways you can get your blood pressure checked. You can make an appointment with your GP or visit your local pharmacy which may operate a blood pressure monitoring service. You could also buy a blood pressure machine for home monitoring or alternatively, book an NICHS Well Check, our comprehensive health checks service, at www.nichs.org.uk/get-a-health-check .”

Blood pressure is a term most of us will be aware of but what exactly is it? Blood pressure is a measure of the force the heart uses to pump blood around the body. High blood pressure is not a disease in itself but it can lead to an increased risk of other serious conditions.

Over time, high blood pressure puts pressure on the heart, making it work harder. High blood pressure slowly damages blood vessels by making them narrower and more rigid. It can also cause small tears and damage to the insides of the blood vessels. As the blood vessels become more damaged and rigid, the heart must work even harder to push the blood through the blood vessels and overall blood pressure rises further. It becomes easier for clots to get caught and for fatty debris to block the blood vessels. This can result in clots which may travel to the heart or brain and cause a heart attack or stroke as well as other conditions such as heart failure and dementia.

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury or mmHg. High blood pressure is indicated when readings begin to rise above the levels of 140/90mmHg- ideal blood pressure is between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg. One reading alone cannot diagnose high blood pressure however, it must be recorded over a period of time.

Fidelma explains; “Due to the serious health risks associated with high blood pressure it is vital people are aware of the importance of monitoring their blood pressure to know their blood pressure numbers and whether these are high and a potential cause for concern. This is the key message of our campaign which includes extensive outdoor, bus, radio and digital advertising to increase public awareness.”

“We will be hosting an Online Blood Pressure Advice Session featuring clinicians and health professionals on 27th September at 7pm. The session is open to everyone and will give information about preventing, detecting and managing high blood pressure to help reduce stroke and heart attack risk. We will demonstrate how to measure your blood pressure at home and provide information on how to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level. All the details on how to join the advice session are available on our website at www.nichs.org.uk/highbloodpressure, where you can also find lots of resources and information about blood pressure.”

“We are also delighted that our corporate partner MACE is supporting our blood pressure campaign. The NI Chest Heart and Stroke Health Promotion team will be visiting several MACE stores throughout September and October to provide pop-up blood pressure checks to local communities. We want to give people a convenient opportunity to check their blood pressure. We understand how busy everyday life can be but making time for your health is so important, so why not get a check when you visit the MACE stores for some shopping? The NICHS website and social media channels will have all the details about the pop-up checks so please follow us online for more information.”

The seriousness of high blood pressure is clear, but what can the public do to reduce their risk? Fidelma explains, “Having high blood pressure dramatically increases your risk of heart attack and stroke, so it is very important that if you have it, you are diagnosed and receive and maintain appropriate treatment. The good news however is it is also one of the most preventable causes of these conditions. We can all make many lifestyle changes to help reduce our blood pressure and maintain it at a healthy level. These changes include maintaining a healthy weight, taking regular exercise and being more active, reducing salt intake, stopping smoking, increasing fruit and vegetable consumption and cutting back on the amount of alcohol we drink. These changes might sound simple, but they really could help save your life.”

For further information and support about blood pressure, visit www.nichs.org.uk/highbloodpressure


Leanne is the editor in chief of BELFAST.CO.UK.