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.
More than 11,000 participants were tested and out of a sample survey of 268, 41% were found to have 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.
Of those surveyed who knew they had a history of high blood pressure prior to attending the mobile unit, 63% still had a high reading, indicating they had not sought help.
That trend was also apparent after checks at mobile clinics, particularly among men. 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.