It is estimated that 6 in every 10 adults over the age of 50 in Ireland have high blood pressure. Hypertension, if untreated, is a major risk factor for heart and kidney diseases, stroke and heart failure. Of those over 50’s with hypertension half are not aware they had it. And of those taking blood pressure medication, half are not controlled. The only way to know you have high blood pressure is by having your blood pressure checked regularly.
myBP.ie is a website just launched for people diagnosed with high blood pressure. It’s a dedicated place where you can find advice on the lifestyle changes that can help to better manage your hypertension. It’s a resource that brings you international research and expert advice through tips and advice on diet, exercise and stress management. The site is not intended to replace consultation with a healthcare professional and patients are advised to discuss their individual health concerns with their doctor.
Please see below interview questions on Hypertension answered by Professor Liam Glynn and Dietician Paula Mee, two experts involved on myBP.ie, to help raise awareness on World Hypertension Day:
Liam is Professor of General Practice at the Graduate Entry Medical School, University of Limerick, GP principle in Ballyvaughan Medical Centre, Co. Clare, and a member of the Health Research Institute. Among his primary research interests are preventive medicine, with a focus on physical activity, and hypertension. He is also interested in developing technological solutions for healthcare and particularly using mobile technology for health solutions.
- For anyone who isn’t familiar with the term, what is Hypertension, and how common is it in Ireland?
Hypertension is just another name for High Blood Pressure. Blood pressure is determined both by the amount of blood your heart pumps around the body and the amount of resistance to this blood flow in your arteries. The more blood your heart pumps and the narrower your arteries, the higher your blood pressure. Hypertension is very common in Ireland. It is estimated to affect a quarter of all adults in Ireland and we are diagnosing it at younger and younger ages all the time. Recent Irish reports estimate when you add the population of those with undiagnosed hypertension that we could be looking at a figure of almost two thirds of the population over the age of 45 living with hypertension.
- What are the signs and symptoms of Hypertension?
Often there are no symptoms until a catastrophic event such as a stroke or heart attack occurs and this is why a third of people with high blood pressure don’t know they have it, a third are diagnosed but are not properly controlled. This is why if you have been diagnosed it is so important to follow your doctor’s advice both from a medication point of view and from a lifestyle change perspective. Lifestyle changes can have a positive impact on your hypertension and that is why a site like www.mybp.ie which I have recently been involved in launching, can be a useful tool to help people get on the right track when it comes to exercise, diet and stress.
- What complications can Hypertension lead to if it’s left untreated?
The worst are the catastrophic events such as a stroke or heart attack which can lead to death or life long disability. A department of health report showed that over 33% of all deaths in Ireland in 2016 in people were related to diseases of the circulatory system in people over the age of 65, and the majority of these conditions begin with hypertension.
- Is there anyone who is particularly at risk of developing Hypertension?
Yes. Those with a family history and those who are overweight, have a sedentary lifestyle or eat a lot of salt. If you have any concerns that you might be at risk you should visit your GP and a simple exam will help to confirm if you have high blood pressure without even knowing it.
- Why is it important for people to get their blood pressure checked on a regular basis?
As with most health conditions our bodies change over time and as we get older we become more at risk. Just because you don’t have hypertension today it does not mean you are not going to develop it in the future so regular check-ups will help you stay informed about your own health
- If you are diagnosed with hypertension, are there any lifestyle changes you can make to help you manage your condition?
Yes improving your diet and becoming more active will help in addition to reducing stress levels can all impact your blood pressure and this is where a site like www.mybp.ie can be a good guide. However the most important thing is to take your medication every day if you are prescribed medication as this will help reduce your risk of suffering any of the events associated with hypertension such as heart attack and stroke
What should your first step be if you’re worried about your blood pressure?
That’s simple – Go to your GP and get it checked
Paula Mee – Consultant Dietitian
Paula is a current member and a past president of the Irish Nutrition and Dietetic Institute (INDI), the professional body for CORU registered dietitians in Ireland. Paula provides an extensive range of services in nutrition and corporate wellness.
- How effective are dietary changes when it comes to Hypertension?
Dietary changes need to be for life. The evidenced-based diet called DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) can help treat high blood pressure. If you are overweight and feel you have many changes to make, it’s best to seek the help of a dietitian or practice nurse who can help you tailor an approach and monitor your progress over time. Your plan will involve reducing salt and sodium in your diet. You may have to consider cutting back on alcohol and caffeine too, depending on your intake. Your tailored plan will also encourage a variety of foods rich in nutrients that help lower blood pressure, such as potassium, calcium and magnesium.
By following this approach studies have found that people can reduce their blood pressure by a few points in just two weeks. Over time, your systolic blood pressure could drop by eight to 14 points, which can significant minimise your health risks. Because this approach is a healthy way of eating, it also offers health benefits besides just lowering blood pressure.
- If Hypertension is a problem for someone, what dietary changes should they make?
Whole grains (not refined carbohydrates) are included depending on how active you are. Plenty of fruits and vegetables and a moderate intake of low-fat dairy products are advised. The diet includes fish, poultry and legumes, and encourages a small amount of nuts and seeds a few times a week. Red meat, fried foods, sweets and treats are restricted.
Drinking too much alcohol can increase blood pressure. You may be advised to limit alcohol to one alcoholic drink per day. The influence of caffeine on blood pressure is unclear, but caffeine can cause your blood pressure to rise at least temporarily. If you already have high blood pressure or if you think the caffeine in your coffee is affecting your blood pressure reduce your intake. You can also decide to reduce other sources such as tea, chocolate and fizzy drinks.
Ideally find a healthy and comfortable weight for your height. Losing even some fat from around the middle (abdominal visceral) can have significant health benefits. You will be better able to manage your blood cholesterol and blood glucose levels as well as your blood pressure. Check www.mybp.ie for more info on simple dietary changes that can be made.
- Changing your diet can be hard, what are your top tips for someone who has to make a significant change in order to improve their health?
The best way to keep your weight down is to make small changes to your eating habits and to your activity levels that you can keep to for life. Really this is more about changing your lifestyle than ‘going on a short-term diet’.
The easiest way to lose weight this is by changing what you eat to consume fewer calories. This is because while it is very easy to consume calories in a snack, it takes a lot of effort to burn the same number of calories through exercise. Eating too many hyper-palatable foods full of added sugar and unhealthy fats can lead to weight gain and can make it harder to lose weight. By making healthier choices you won’t necessarily need to eat less and some simple swaps can make a real difference.
Foods containing more fibre take longer to digest and as a result you will feel fuller for longer so you will be increasing these and include protein at each meal too as this also helps you to feel fuller for longer. Watch your portion sizes and set realistic goals.
- Salt can play a big role in our diets. What kind of an impact does salt have on someone with Hypertension?
The target is to eat no more than 6g of salt a day, but most of us eat much more than this. Most of the salt we eat every day is ‘hidden’ which means it’s already in processed foods like bread, biscuits and breakfast cereals, and prepared ready meals. This ‘hidden’ salt accounts for around 75% of the salt we eat, only 25% comes from the salt we add while cooking or at the table.
To avoid hidden salt and cut down your salt intake, it is best to eat foods that are low in salt and stop using salt when cooking or at the table. MyBP.ie has lots of hints on reducing salt intake.
- Cut back on salty condiments like soya sauce, stock cubes and gravy granules.
- Use herbs and spices, chilli, ginger, lemon or lime juice instead of salt to season food.
- Bread and breakfast cereals may contain a lot of salt. Check labels.
- Limit smoked and processed meats as they contain a lot of salt.
- If you are eating out, ask if your meal can be made with less salt.
- Use no or low-salt recipes from MyBP.ie
myBP.ie has been developed with the input of Professor Liam Glynn GP, Dietitian Paula Mee and psychologist Dr. Jenny Wilson O’ Raghallaigh. Liam is Professor of General Practice at the Graduate entry Medical school, University of Limerick, is in general practice and is a member of the health research Institute. Paula Mee is a past president of the Irish Nutrition and Dietitic Institute and Jenny Wilson O’ Raghallaigh is the Principal clinical psychologist on the Liaison Psychiatry Team at Beaumont hospital and co-director of their Better Health, Better Living (BHBL) programme.
Our health experts have devised some healthy recipes in association with some of Ireland’s leading chefs and give advice on what to eat. There are suggested exercises without the necessity to join a gym or hire a personal trainer and a number of both physical and mental strategies you can adopt to try to alleviate stress including mindfulness and meditation. myBP.ie is a resource to support you and your doctor to manage your high blood pressure.
- Menarini Pharmaceuticals Ireland Ltd. and Daiichi Sankyo Ireland Ltd. have collaborated to development the website contentof myBP.ie