Knowing your numbers could save your life

High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because it rarely has any symptoms.
Photo: Getty

High blood pressure is known as the silent killer because it rarely has any symptoms. Photo: Getty Images - Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

Seven million people across the country are throught to have potentially-fatal high blood pressure without even realising it. Sheena Grant reports.

Knowing your numbers could save your life when it comes to blood pressure.
Photo: Thinkstockphotos

Knowing your numbers could save your life when it comes to blood pressure. Photo: Thinkstockphotos - Credit: Getty Images

Not so long ago Chris Fisk was isolated and virtually confined to the house, facing the prospect of his health spiralling out of control.

Chris had severe social anxiety phobia, which meant he didn’t work for about six years. His lifestyle involved late nights and long sleep-ins, sometimes lasting most of the day.

As a result, he had gained weight and had high blood pressure, a condition that rarely has symptoms but can be fatal, causing strokes, heart attacks, vascular dementia and kidney disease. He only found out he was affected by chance, when he went to the doctor about migraine headaches.

Chris was among the one in three UK adults - 16 million people - who have high blood pressure, known as the silent killer. Health experts reckon around seven million people across the country are unaware they are affected.

Key risk factors are eating too much salt, not enough fruit and vegetables, being overweight and not getting enough exercise. High blood pressure, which is almost entirely preventable, was responsible for approximately 75,000 deaths in the UK in 2015.

Chris decided to take action about his health, signing up for a weight management programme run by OneLife Suffolk, the county’s healthy lifestyle service.

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It wasn’t easy. Nerves stopped him attending the first session so group leader Sharon met him before the start of the second meeting, enabling him to feel safer and more at ease.

From then on Chris, who lives in Ipswich, attended every session and didn’t look back. He has lost 7st in weight and walks around five miles a day. He also has a job and has completed DIY projects at home as his confidence and self esteem improved.

“When I got up to about four or five stone in weight loss my blood pressure started to drop,” he says. “I have been able to come off one of the tablets I was taking for it and hopefully will be able to soon come off medication altogether. If I hadn’t taken action I could have been looking at a life cut short. I would most probably have ended up as a statistic. Everyone needs to get their blood pressure checked.”

Experts say Chris’s story is proof of the huge difference simple measures around diet and exercise can make.

That’s why this month they’ve been promoting the annual Know Your Numbers campaign, urging people to get a 30-second blood pressure test - the only way of identifying those affected.

OneLife Suffolk’s Fiona Needham says: “A normal and healthy blood pressure is anything equal to or less than 140/90mmhg. If your blood pressure reading is higher than this we would recommend it is checked regularly and you book in with your GP to ensure it’s not anything to be concerned about. A number of lifestyle changes can help us to reduce or prevent high blood pressure, even just a 1kg reduction in weight can reduce blood pressure by 2mmhg.”

Blood pressure is created when blood pushes against the sides of vessels as the heart pumps. If the pressure is too high, it puts arteries and the heart under strain. By detecting problems early lifestyle changes can be introduced to get it back to healthy levels before lasting damage is done.

Dr Chris Rufford, a Suffolk GP and sports and exercise physician, says: “High blood pressure is known as the silent killer as it rarely has noticeable symptoms. You should regularly test yourself by investing in a simple and inexpensive home blood pressure monitor. Taking steps to reduce your risk are also important, including eating healthily and taking regular exercise.”

According to the charity Blood Pressure UK the number of younger adults suffering strokes is rising and since 60% of strokes are caused by high blood pressure, it’s important for younger people to get tested too. Ignoring health warnings, particularly about poor diet and excess salt intake, is leading more young people to develop high blood pressure, it warns.

Associate professor Jamie Waterall, of Public Health England, says: “High blood pressure is the third biggest cause of early death and ill health in England. This is why it’s so important to know our numbers.”

Anyone wanting a blood pressure check should visit their local pharmacy, look out for blood pressure monitors in surgery waiting rooms or ask a

GP or nurse during their next booked appointment. More information in Suffolk is available from OneLife Suffolk on 01473 718193.

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