Four million people are living with untreated high blood pressure, new estimates show

3 May 2019        

Category: BHF Comment

Four million people under the age of 65 in the UK are living with untreated high blood pressure, according to new estimates we have produced. 

The analysis also found that 1.3 million of these people are under the age of 45.

If untreated, high blood pressure can significantly raise the risk of heart attack and stroke. It’s also associated with an increased risk of vascular dementia.

High blood pressure, often referred to as a silent killer, does not usually have any symptoms, meaning that many people are unaware they are living with one of the risk factors most commonly associated with heart attacks and strokes.

However, if detected the condition can be easily treated by a combination of simple lifestyle changes and medication, depending on the individual.

Get your pressure checked this May

We are urging people to get their blood pressure tested, whether at home, in a pharmacy, or a GP surgery. We are supporting May Measurement Month (MMM), a global blood pressure screening initiative, now in its third year, which aims to improve public awareness of high blood pressure.

This is why the BHF are funding £1.5m worth of community projects across the country which aim  to reach and test people who are most at-risk of high blood pressure in everyday settings such as train stations, barber shops and football grounds, or through existing initiatives such as the Fire & Rescue Service safe and well programme.

Reaching people outside of hospitals and GP surgeries is key to making sure that millions of people with undiagnosed high blood pressure in the UK understand their risk and are able to get the treatment and advice they need.

It is estimated that just over a quarter of adults in the UK, around 14.4 million people, have high blood pressure. Of these, around nine million people have been diagnosed with high blood pressure by their GP.

Gwynneth Clay, 56, a project manager from Edinburgh, suffered a haemorrhagic stroke in 2016.

“I have always been quite physically active, and I was on a climbing wall when I suffered a stroke. It was a big shock to me, as in my mind a stroke was something that mostly affected older people. When I got to hospital I found out that my blood pressure was through the roof. I don’t know how long I had high blood pressure for, but I suspect for quite a long time. The warning signs were there – I had high blood pressure after a minor car accident, but put this down to being in the accident itself.

“My life was very busy and I felt very stressed at times, and I wish I had taken high blood pressure more seriously. It is the hardest thing about what happened - that there is a good chance I could have avoided it by acting on early warning signs.”

A ticking time bomb

Simon Gillespie, our chief executive said:

“Getting your blood pressure under control is one of the most important things you can do to reduce your risk of having a heart attack or stroke. These figures show that millions of adults of all ages are living with untreated high blood pressure – a ticking time bomb that puts their future health in jeopardy.

“Having your blood pressure checked takes less than five minutes, but it is all too easy to put it on the back burner in our hectic day to day lives. That’s why we’re urging everyone to take a moment this month and get their pressure checked – it could ultimately save your life.”

Professor Jamie Waterall, National Lead for Cardiovascular Disease Prevention at Public Health England, said:

“High blood pressure is the country’s leading cause of heart attacks and strokes, which is why we must make it easier for people to get their blood pressure checked. If you’re over 40, getting your free NHS Health Check is a simple way to find out your blood pressure as well as your risk of other serious conditions.

“Diagnosing high blood pressure earlier and managing it in line with NICE guidance will save thousands of lives and prevent years spent in ill-health. That’s why we’ve set national ambitions to improve the detection and management of high blood pressure within the next decade.”

Professor Francesco Cappuccio, Chair of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Warwick, President of the British and Irish Hypertension Society and national coordinator of MMM19 in the UK said:

“Over 10 million people die each year globally due to conditions related to high blood pressure (hypertension) – such as heart attacks, strokes and kidney failure - but unless hypertension is detected we cannot treat it to prevent these conditions. Screening is cheap and takes only a few minutes to measure someone’s pressure which if raised can be easily treated. May Measurement Month is an opportunity to raise awareness of the importance of knowing your blood pressure number. Everyone should join in and support this unique initiative”. 

Find out where to check your blood pressure this May