THIRD AGE: Be heart smart to fight hypertension

THREE years ago, Gerry Hegarty, a father of four, decided to go for a medical check-up and was “totally shocked’’ to discover he was suffering from hypertension, as there were no symptoms at all.

“That was the problem, it was a terrible shock. I had no symptoms at all. My blood pressure was near the 200 mark and I had no idea at all. I was immediately put on medication, which I am still on, and advised to start an exercise regime, I have now lost 30lbs in weight,’’ he says.

Today is World Hypertension Day, and according to the latest research by the Irish Heart Foundation one in four Irish people have been diagnosed with hypertension. As there are no symptoms, most people are diagnosed only after visiting their doctor for a different complaint.

Dr Angie Browne, medical director of the IHF, recommends people have their blood pressure checked regularly. To mark world hypertension day, the IHF has organised a week long blood pressure check road show which will visit Waterford, Cork, Limerick, Galway and Dublin. “The only way to know if you have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is to have it checked.

“Even if you feel well and healthy, you could still have hypertension, a silent risk factor for stroke and heart attack,’’ she says.

“The good news is that once detected, hypertension can be effectively managed through lifestyle changes such as being a healthy weight, being active, consuming less salt, less calories and less alcohol. In some cases, doctors will recommend a combination of lifestyle changes and medication to manage the condition.’’

Three years on, Gerry, now 60, has never felt better. A former construction worker from Templelogue, Dublin, he is now doing a course for new businesses.

He has completely changed his diet, eating lots of fruit and vegetables and very little meat. He also goes for a long walk every day.

“I feel like a new man. Initially the diagnosis was shocking, but now something positive has come out of it.

I have lost weight, I have so much more energy. I use to think salads were for rabbits but now I actually love them.

“I don’t use salt or sugar now either, that was probably the hardest to give up. It was difficult as I was a lover of desserts. I now have fresh fruit salad instead,’’ he says.

Although Gerry gets his blood pressure checked regularly by his doctor, he has also purchased a blood pressure monitor at his local supermarket so he can do it at home too.

“At the moment I see my doctor every six months, but I check my blood pressure at home every week and if it goes up at all I head immediately to see my GP. He is very happy with my progress, he just wants me now to get down to the weight I was when I got married.

“I don’t know if that will ever happen, but I am heading in the right direction,’’ he says, laughing.

Dr Eamon Dolan, consultant geriatrician at Connolly Hospital, Dublin, says older people aged 60 plus are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure and believes it is “vital’’ to publicise the risks of hypertension.

“It is important to empower people, to make sure they have their blood pressure checked regularly and to realise if they are suffering from hypertension then it can be dealt with,’’ he says.

High blood pressure can run in families. Dr Dolan suggests it is important to know your family health history.

Gerry agrees. After his diagnosis, he remembered that his parents had suffered from hypertension too.

* www.irishheart.ie/hypertension

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