There are lots of numbers that we remember and use every day: for example, important phone numbers, our credit card PIN or computer passwords. But most of us are less knowledgeable about our blood pressure – the numbers which could potentially help us to live a longer and healthier life.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is the third biggest risk factor for premature death and disability in England and is estimated to cost the NHS £2.1 billion each year. At least half of all strokes and heart attacks are associated with high blood pressure and it is also linked to dementia, kidney disease and heart failure. Despite these stark risks more than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, and most people remain unaware. Easily accessible blood pressure testing is crucial to ensure that these people with undiagnosed hypertension can make the necessary lifestyle changes or receive medication to manage their condition and improve their health and wellbeing.
As demonstrated in our recent practice-based audit, community pharmacies can help! Community pharmacies are essential health and wellbeing hubs where members of the public can get healthcare advice and services without the need for an appointment. They are also highly accessible, with most people living within 20 minutes of their nearest pharmacy. This accessibility is further increased in areas of high deprivation. With hypertension being 30% more common among deprived communities, pharmacies are perfectly placed to help combat these health inequalities.
Many pharmacies already offer blood pressure testing and monitoring services, either through locally commissioned or private services. Our one-week audit carried out in 2017 of more than 5,000 community pharmacies found:
- There were over 220,000 interactions with people about their blood pressure, and
- Of the 30,000 blood pressure measurements that were taken, over half were categorised as high or pre-high.
The audit shows how community pharmacies are already helping to improve the cardiovascular health of the people and patients they serve. It is particularly encouraging that thousands of people with high or pre-high blood pressure were discovered and referred onwards appropriately.
A nationally commissioned service offered in all community pharmacies would have substantial benefits for public health and wellbeing, as well as reducing the burden on other NHS services such as general practice and hospitals.
Hypertension can be managed using medication, but simple lifestyle changes can also be effective in lowering blood pressure, such as reducing your salt and alcohol intake and doing more physical activity. Therefore, by knowing your numbers, you can be empowered to take control of your own health and potentially reduce your risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
So, what should you do if you don’t know your blood pressure? As part of Blood Pressure UK’s Know Your Numbers Week 2019, hundreds of Pressure Stations are offering free blood pressure checks throughout the UK.
Alternatively, why not visit your friendly community pharmacy team and find out what blood pressure measuring services are available near you? Or ask about how simple lifestyle changes can improve your blood pressure and help you live a longer and healthier life.