Time to act on ’silent killer’ which affects one million people in Ireland

Two in five people who availed of free blood pressure checks at pop-up mobile clinics around the country were found to have high blood pressure — putting them at risk of heart attack and stroke, reports Caroline O’Doherty.

The initiative, run by the Irish Heart Foundation, has just marked a year in operation in shopping centres, community centres, car parks and other public places where trained nursing staff encourage passers-by to take a minute to check their pressure.

After testing more than 11,000 participants in all 26 counties, they found 41% had high blood pressure, many of them having no idea they had what is often called the silent risk factor for heart attacks and strokes.

More men than women were found to be at risk — high blood pressure was detected in 51% of men compared to 33% of the women.

Men were also less likely to address the problem. Of those who returned for a check, having previously been told they had high blood pressure, 63% still had a high reading, indicating they had not sought help.

That trend was also apparant after checks at mobile clinics. Of those initially surveyed who then responded to a follow-up call at six weeks, only 42% of men reported going to their GP compared with 54% of women.

Marese Damery, health check manager with Irish Heart, said: “What this evaluation has highlighted is that men are more likely than women to have high blood pressure and even when advised to visit a GP, men are less likely to act on that advice.

“This is a continuing challenge for those of us who work in the health arena and especially when dealing with a silent risk factor like blood pressure, where a person can feel fine and not know that they have a problem.”

High blood pressure — generally measured as more than 120 over 80 — is estimated to affect almost 1m people in Ireland. It is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and the biggest risk factor for stroke and may require medication but it can often be helped by addressing bad habits such as smoking, an unhealthy diet, a lack of physical activity, and harmful alcohol use.

“On a positive note, our survey showed that 43% of men reported making lifestyle changes as a result of the health check and were contemplating quitting smoking, reducing their alcohol intake or reviewing their diet,” Ms Damery said.

Details of where the mobile units are each week can be found on  irishheart.ie. Follow the link to Your Health, then Health Programmes, then Healthy Communities.

To speak in confidence with trained specialist nurses for expert one-to-one advice and support, call the National Heart & Stroke Helpline on Freefone 1800 25 25 50 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm, Thursday until 7pm) or email helpline@irishheart.ie

Blood Pressure top tips from Irish Heart

1. Know your BP

Get your blood pressure checked and know what a healthy reading should be.

2. Get physical

Try to do at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity every day.

3. Watch your weight

Aim to keep your weight at a level which is right for your height and build. Even losing 10% of excess weight can help lower your blood pressure.

4. Eat healthily

Add more vegetables and fruit to your diet and cut down on salt consumption.

5. Drink less

If you drink alcohol, stick within the recommended limits.

6. Take your medicines

Don’t stop taking your medication without consulting your GP first.

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