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The simple health test that could save your life | UK | News

(Image: Getty)

Cardiovascular disease is the biggest killer in England, accounting for nearly a quarter of deaths in 2019. High blood pressure causes nearly half of all reported heart attacks and strokes, but it rarely has noticeable symptoms. Yet it’s largely preventable.

Over a quarter of adults have high blood pressure. If you’re over 40 you should get it checked at least every five years. It’s quick, it’s easy and it could save your life.

Your pharmacist or another healthcare professional can help you maintain your blood pressure at a safe level with the aid of lifestyle changes or medicines – and they can support you while you decide which treatment is right for you.

You can have your blood pressure tested at many local pharmacies; at your GP surgery; in some workplaces, or at home with a blood pressure monitor.

‘Stress made my blood pressure spike’

Recognising one of the causes of hypertension helped Simon Osborne-Walker spot his own warning signs

High blood pressure is renowned for having no symptoms, so it was family history and a stressful job that made PR executive Simon Osborne-Walker, 44, get his checked.

“My dad has been on blood pressure medication as long as I can remember. I have two kids, and I began to worry about not living to see them start their own families and help them the way my parents have helped me,” he says.

Simon bought a blood pressure monitor from his local pharmacy and began to check it regularly. (Most pharmacies offer free blood pressure tests without an appointment.)

“The first result showed I was just about in the mild hypertension level – that told me it was worth testing, but I was a bit relieved that it wasn’t actually too bad,” says Simon.

But when he began going through a stressful period, he was alarmed to see his level spike, so he went to see his doctor, who prescribed medication.

The facts about high blood pressure

What are the risks associated with high blood pressure?

• Extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.

• Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a heart attack or stroke.

What can increase my blood pressure?

You won’t notice symptoms and it’s not always clear what causes it, but you might be more at risk if you:

• Are overweight

• Eat too much salt and not enough fruit and vegetables

• Are not very active

• Drink too much alcohol or caffeine

• Smoke

• Don’t get enough sleep

• Are over 65

• Have a family history of high blood pressure

• Are of Black African or Black Caribbean descent

The good news is that making healthy lifestyle changes can sometimes help reduce your chances of getting high blood pressure – and lower it if it’s already too high.

Get your blood pressure tested. Find out more at nhs.uk

Simon also made some lifestyle changes. “As a family we already eat quite healthily, but I started to go out less and drink less. We also got a dog, which forced me out of the house to exercise more,” he says.

“Getting a good night’s sleep helped too. When I started having sleepless nights because my wife was unwell, my blood pressure rose again.”

“I still take medication, but it’s just a pill that I have every morning. I’d rather do that and help avoid a heart attack, especially given that heart problems have affected both my side of the family and my wife’s.

That’s why Simon is keen to keep an eye on his blood pressure from now on.

“A monitor doesn’t cost much, but it might help to add years to your life,” he says. “You can go for decades with high BP and never know it because there won’t necessarily be any symptoms – and when they do happen it could be too late.”

‘I told myself, “I have a healthy lifestyle so I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about’

Back on track: Medication has given Paulomi more energy

Back on track: Medication has given Paulomi more energy (Image: )

When Paulomi Debnath went to see her doctor for a check-up, she was shocked to discover her blood pressure was very high

When Paulomi Debnath, 43, began to feel unusually tired last year, she put it down to stress and didn’t go to the doctor at first as her symptoms were so mild.

“I’m usually quite energetic, so this was surprising for me. But I thought, ‘I have a healthy lifestyle, so I’m sure it’s nothing to worry about,’” says Paulomi, who runs her own jewellery business.

“But the tiredness wouldn’t go away, and I also started to notice a feeling of pressure on the back of my head, so I decided to go and see my doctor. While I was there, he tested my blood pressure. It was off the chart. So I was given tablets to lower it, and had to have it measured regularly for two weeks.

‘I’m not very active at work so I’ve bought a standing desk’

“It alarmed me – my symptoms were so slight, I’d assumed it was nothing, or just a bit of stress. And because I felt fit and healthy, I never imagined it would be high blood pressure.

“I love walking and swimming, but my job is quite inactive so I’ve now bought a standing desk,” she says. “Apart from that, I have very healthy habits – I don’t smoke, I only enjoy the occasional cocktail and I stick to healthy foods.

“I’m used to being more energetic and getting treatment has helped with that. I’d 100 per cent recommend that anyone over 40 gets their blood pressure checked, because often there are no symptoms if it’s high.”

‘It’s vital people of my age get checked’

A dose of self-care: Janette has made big changes to her lifestyle

A dose of self-care: Janette has made big changes to her lifestyle (Image: )

How a routine doctor’s appointment let to a significant diagnosis – and a sparked a change to healthier habits

Janette Wilkinson, 59, discovered she had high blood pressure 16 years ago, but it’s now stable thanks to medication and lifestyle changes.

“I went for a yearly asthma review and as part of that I had a test for high blood pressure. Both my parents suffer from it and I suspected I could be susceptible,” says Janette, a retired headteacher from East Yorkshire. “At the time I had a lot on my plate – working full-time as a teacher and bringing up my son on my own.”

‘Reducing stress helped me lower my blood pressure’

Janette was prescribed medication by her doctor, and she also made some major lifestyle changes, losing 61/2st over the past few years and taking up walking for an hour most days.

“I have a much healthier diet than I used to, and eat a lot more fruit and vegetables,”

she says. “Reducing my stress also helped – I tried to make my life simpler and ensure I get enough ‘me time’.

“My blood pressure is now where it should be at 120/80. I am still on medication, but I’ve been told that I might be allowed to come off it.”

And Janette has a clear message for other people of her age. “It is vital you get your blood pressure checked. High blood pressure can lead to serious and deadly conditions,” she says. “You can have it checked by your pharmacist. The whole process only takes a few minutes – and could save your life.”

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