Article by Maree Todd MSP, highlighting the issues of patients with hypertension as part of Hypertension Awareness Month and the important role pharmacists play in supporting them. Before becoming an MSP in 2016, Maree was a pharmacist at New Craigs Psychiatric Hospital in Inverness.
This week I held a member’s debate in the Scottish Parliament to mark world Hypertension month.
I was pleased to be able to highlight the condition as a pharmacist turned parliamentarian, particularly since I am co-convenor of the cross-party group on heart and stroke. I wanted to remind everyone that this condition can be diagnosed with a very simple test, and it’s easy to treat. Around 30% of adults in Scotland have high blood pressure. It’s very common indeed. So why do we need to raise awareness about it?
We need to raise awareness because Hypertension is a crucial risk factor for cardiovascular disease. In particular, hypertension increases the risk of heart attack and stroke contributing to more than a fifth of all heart attacks and half of all strokes as well as increasing the risk of conditions such as renal failure and dementia.
- Stroke is the most common cause of severe physical disability amongst adults – half of stroke survivors have a disability.
- About 15,000 people in Scotland have a stroke each year.
- Up to 80% of all strokes could be prevented.
Preventing and treating hypertension is less costly, and safer than treating the consequences. I explained to my MSP colleagues about ‘the rule of halves’ and how it applies to high blood pressure:
- Only half of the patients with high blood pressure in a population have been diagnosed,
- only half of those detected have been treated,
- and only half of those treated have been adequately treated to a normal blood pressure.
Here’s another half: as a pharmacist, I know well that only about half of the people who are prescribed medication, take it as the prescriber intended. Given this fact, I know that my pharmacy colleagues, with their expertise in pharmaceutical care, will be able to improve outcomes for people with hypertension.
One of the particular challenges with high blood pressure is that you don’t feel ill – that’s why it’s called “the silent killer”. You don’t know you have it unless you get it checked. You only feel the effect of it after some damage to target organs has been caused. Most people would rather not take medication. It can be hard to persevere with medication if it makes you feel lousy, particularly if you felt fine before you started it. Another problem is that people stop or reduce medication when their blood pressure levels fall to normal levels but the condition doesn’t go away.
Thankfully, in Scotland we have free prescriptions so whilst there may be many barriers to taking medication as prescribed, cost is not one of them.
I don’t want to paint too bleak a picture because we have made incredible progress, but given that so many of these illnesses and early deaths are preventable, of course, we want to do more.
Even though we don’t know the cause of hypertension, things like maintaining a healthy weight, getting regular physical activity, cutting down alcohol intake, stopping smoking and reducing salt intake can help to maintain a healthy blood pressure. Pharmacists are well placed to help patients achieve a healthier lifestyle. World Hypertension Day was on 17 May but this year, but this year, for the whole month of May we’re encouraging people to “Know their Numbers” by getting their blood pressure checked – just do it!