Leading British doctor Dr Hilary Jones is backing the Stroke Association’s campaign to urge the public to get checked as new data suggests that at least 84,000 people in Gloucestershire alone could be living with a ‘silent’ condition that causes deadly strokes.
More than half of stroke patients have high blood pressure and almost one in five have an irregular heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation. Both conditions are often without symptoms. The charity warns that missed diagnosis and lack of treatment, which has been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, could increase the number of strokes by thousands.
In the UK, around 10 million people have diagnosed high blood pressure.
However, it is estimated that high blood pressure actually affects around 15 million adults in the UK. This means one in three people with high blood pressure – are living with the condition undiagnosed. In the UK, around 1.4 million people have atrial fibrillation but an additional 500,000 cases are expected to be undiagnosed.
Dr Hilary Jones is a GP, presenter and writer, known for his television appearances on shows such as Good Morning Britain and Lorraine. Dr Jones said: “It’s vital that you get checked for high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation so you can avoid a deadly stroke.
“In many people, these conditions often don’t have obvious symptoms – so taking the time to get checked could prevent a stroke. You can get your blood pressure checked at your local pharmacy, at an NHS Health Check appointment, at your GP surgery and at home.
“If you’re measuring your blood pressure at home, make sure you share your readings with your GP so they can regularly review your treatment. Checking your pulse is the first step to monitoring for atrial fibrillation. If your heart rate doesn’t feel right, talk to your GP.
“We know there are many cases of high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation that aren’t being diagnosed. But, if caught early these conditions can be treated with medicine or changes to your lifestyle, which can reduce your risk of a life-changing stroke.”
The Covid-19 pandemic has had a huge impact on the entire health system, and whilst GPs have worked incredibly hard to maintain service during the pandemic, there have been fewer face to face appointments. Between March – May 2020, the diagnosis rate of cardiovascular conditions (including high blood pressure) almost halved, dropping to 43%.
Stroke strikes every five minutes in the UK, and happens when the blood supply to part of your brain is cut off, killing brain cells. High blood pressure is the single biggest risk factor for stroke – causing blood vessels to narrow or block, or to burst. Atrial fibrillation is a type of irregular heartbeat that prevents your heart from emptying blood properly, causing blood clots which can travel to your brain.
These two silent conditions are linked: high blood pressure is a significant risk factor for atrial fibrillation. Furthermore, strokes caused by atrial fibrillation are more severe and are more likely to result in institutional care.
Juliet Bouverie OBE, Chief Executive at the Stroke Association said: “Pre-pandemic, diagnosis rates of high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation were already low. So we’re incredibly worried that the pandemic’s knock-on effect on healthcare services means thousands of people are unknowingly living with these deadly conditions.
“Heart health affects brain health. So we are urging you to act now and make sure your heart is healthy by getting checked for high blood pressure and atrial fibrillation. Don’t let the first sign of high blood pressure or atrial fibrillation be a life-changing stroke.
“We know it can be difficult to get an appointment at your GP, but it’s vital that you persist when making this call, or visit your local pharmacy and get checked there. These simple checks could save your life.”