A new initiative has just been launched, which will see community pharmacists test for high blood pressure. The pilot scheme developed and led by South Eastern Integrated Care Partnerships and working with Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke, and Community Pharmacy NI, means fully trained and accredited community pharmacists will be able to test for high blood pressure.

Approximately 60 pharmacies have signed up to take part in the scheme which will run until 31 December 2019.  The scheme, carried out in the pharmacy setting, is aimed at detecting potential high blood pressure or hypertension in people aged 45+. This new initiative will utilise pharmacists’ skills and expertise and ensure that people undertaking hypertension testing will get professional advice on how to self-manage their health and wellbeing. It has the potential to save lives and prevent strokes but can also take some of the burden of screening for high blood pressure away from overloaded GP surgeries.

Age and gender can affect your blood pressure and because most people won’t have any obvious symptoms the only way to find out if your blood pressure is too high or too low is to have a test. If high blood pressure is left undetected this can increase the risk of developing serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes

So what is high blood pressure and how is it measured?

Blood pressure is recorded with 2 numbers and measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.

The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels.

Everyone’s blood pressure will be slightly different. What’s considered low or high for you may be normal for someone else but as a general guide:

  • High blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher (or 150/90mmHg or higher if you’re over the age of 80)
  • Ideal blood pressure is usually considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
  • Blood pressure readings between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure if you do not take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.

Risks of high blood pressure

If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes. Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening health conditions, such as:

If you have high blood pressure, reducing it even a small amount can help lower your risk of these health conditions.

What causes high blood pressure?

It’s not always clear what causes high blood pressure, but certain things can increase your risk. You’re at an increased risk of high blood pressure if you:

  • Are over the age of 65
  • Are overweight
  • Are of African or Caribbean descent
  • Have a relative with high blood pressure
  • Eat too much salt and do not eat enough fruit and vegetables
  • Do not do enough exercise
  • Drink too much alcohol or coffee (or other caffeine-based drinks)
  • Smoke
  • Do not get much sleep or have disturbed sleep

Making healthy lifestyle changes can help reduce your chances of getting high blood pressure and help lower your blood pressure if it’s already high.

Reduce your blood pressure

The following lifestyle changes can help prevent and lower high blood pressure:

Some people with high blood pressure may also need to take 1 or more medicines to stop their blood pressure getting too high.

Medicines for high blood pressure

If you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend taking 1 or more medicines to keep it under control. The medicine recommended for you will depend on things like how high your blood pressure is, your age and your ethnicity.