About 4.7 million Australians are living with uncontrolled high blood pressure, and many do not realise it.
Also known as hypertension, the condition is the greatest modifiable risk factor for stroke, and a blood pressure test might be all it takes for someone to change their lifestyle and reduce their health risk.
World Hypertension Day is on May 17, and the Stroke Foundation is promoting the importance of blood pressure checking.
Stroke Foundation Chief Executive Officer Sharon McGowan says high blood pressure often goes undiagnosed as it has no immediate symptoms. Over time it puts extra stress on blood vessel walls and can cause them to narrow or break down, eventually leading to a stroke.
A normal blood pressure measurement is described as around 120 over 80mmHg. A measurement of 140 over 90mmHg is regarded as high blood pressure and puts you at increased risk of stroke, no matter what your age.
It's something Ms McGowan wasn't even aware of in herself.
"In my first year as CEO of Stroke Foundation, by participating in Australia's biggest blood pressure check campaign, I discovered that I had high blood pressure. Thanks to our very own awareness campaign, my blood pressure is now controlled but it could have been a very different outcome," she said.
"If there is one thing that we have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is that people are keen and able to manage their risk of exposure to illness. We want to apply that mindset to stroke prevention. When 80 per cent of all strokes are preventable, why would you not want to know your risk?"
Pharmacy Guild of Australia's national president Trent Twomey advised the public to find a local pharmacy who could perform a blood pressure check.
"A blood pressure check can give an early warning of the dangers of a stroke," he said.
Pharmacies can be searched for by clicking here.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is the most important known risk factor for stroke.
Blood pressure is a measure of the force with which blood presses on the walls of your arteries as it is pumped around your body. This pumping action is driven by your heart.
Normal blood pressure is around 120/80. If your blood pressure is regularly over 140/90, you have high blood pressure.
High blood pressure puts a strain on blood vessels all over the body, including the arteries that lead to the brain. This means the heart has to work much harder to keep the blood circulation going.
High blood pressure can lead to a stroke in several ways:
- It damages blood vessel walls and makes them weaker.
- It can speed up common forms of heart disease.
- It can cause blood clots or plaques to break off artery walls and block a brain artery.
The higher the blood pressure, the greater the stroke risk.
What causes high blood pressure?
While tough to find an exact cause, factors that are linked to high blood pressure include:
- A family history of high blood pressure
- Age (blood pressure can rise as people get older)
- Men are more likely to have high blood pressure than women
- Being overweight
- Excessive alcohol drinking
- Lack of exercise
- A diet high in salt
What can I do to help keep it down?
Regular exercise, maintaining a healthy weight, and diet can help.
Everyone who has had a stroke should be on blood pressure lowering medication. This is even if you have 'normal' blood pressure.
The lower your blood pressure, the lower your risk of stroke.
*Information courtesy Stroke Foundation