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Hidden highs

Hypertension is becoming more and more common amongst middle-aged and older adults. But what about those who are younger?

A “considerable” number of young people in England have high blood pressure (hypertension) without knowing it, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The organisation has reported that about five in 100 men and one in 100 women aged between 16 and 24 suffer from the condition, which is responsible for around 50 per cent of heart attacks and strokes in the UK. 

Considerable numbers

The data comes after Health Survey for England carried out blood pressure measurements on 20,000 people. A nurse visited these individuals – including 1,500 young people – on different occasions in order to achieve an average reading. 

“We see that there are considerable numbers of younger, healthier people who are undiagnosed. It may be that this group are unaware they have the condition because they are less likely to access healthcare if they are otherwise well,” said Chris Shine from the ONS’s analytical hub. 

Speaking to the BBC, Mr Shine added, “these results will provide valuable insight for health services and those seeking to improve outcomes for what is one of the most common causes of premature death, especially as we know that the sooner hypertension is identified, the more effectively it can be managed and treated among all ages”. 

“In recent years, we have seen an increase in younger patients with high blood pressure, often as a result of poor diet, consuming too much salt and a lack of exercise leading to weight gain,” added Dr Pauline Swift, from charity Blood Pressure UK. “If you start making small changes to your lifestyle when you are young… then you are more likely to stay healthier and prevent strokes, heart disease and chronic kidney disease.”

More responsibility for PTs  

As it becomes increasingly important for as many customers as possible to have their blood pressure checked, NHS England is due to release updated service specifications this year that state that pharmacy technicians will now be able to carry out blood pressure services in the pharmacy. This includes measuring blood pressure and providing follow-up advice, ambulatory monitoring or GP referrals, as required. 

Launched in 2021, the NHS Community Pharmacy Blood Pressure Check Service has been extremely successful. Indeed, in December 2022, there were 75,500 blood pressure checks carried out across 3,600 pharmacies. 

“We are delighted to see pharmacy technicians are now able to perform blood pressure checks as part of the Hypertension Case-Finding Service,” said James Davies, director for England at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS). “Pharmacy technicians, as registered professionals play an integral part in helping patients make the most of their medicines.”

A positive future

Indeed, it is thought that community pharmacies in England will have prevented 15,000 patients from suffering a heart attack or stroke by 2026, according to the Company Chemists’ Association (CCA).

This is based on modelling by University College London researchers, who found that pharmacies delivered almost 600,000 checks in the first year of the service and identified over 25,000 individuals with high blood pressure. The CCA estimated that over 600 heart attacks and strokes have been prevented and thus by 2026 almost 15 million checks will have been carried out, preventing 15,000 heart attacks and strokes.

“By delivering blood pressure checks to more people more easily, high street pharmacies are helping to save lives every day. Local pharmacies are well placed to detect high blood pressure and help people receive appropriate care, while also relieving some of the immense pressure on GPs,” said John Maingay, director of Policy and Influencing at the British Heart Foundation.

“High blood pressure often doesn’t present any symptoms but if left untreated, it can lead to a life-threatening heart attack or stroke. That’s why it’s important to get your blood pressure checked at a local pharmacy, GP surgery or during a free NHS health check in England, especially if you have a family history of heart and circulatory diseases. A quick and simple five-minute test could prevent a future heart attack or stroke, and even save your life.”

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