High blood pressure is a major risk factor for strokes, heart attacks, heart failure, chronic kidney disease and dementia. It is also the second biggest risk factor for early death and disability in this country after tobacco.Yet most people are unaware of not only the risks of high blood pressure, but also their own blood pressure levels.
The good news is that high blood pressure is often preventable through lifestyle change. Indeed, the majority of adults could reduce their risk of cardiovascular disease by lowering their blood pressure, not just the almost 30% who have hypertension (140/90mmHg or higher).
Improvements in tackling blood pressure in the last decade have prevented or postponed many thousands of deaths, but at present only four in 10 adults with high blood pressure are both aware of their condition and managing it to the levels recommended. In Canada, that figure is seven out of 10, so we know better is possible.
The need for action is not going unrecognised and a group of organisations was brought together by Public Health England in 2014 – with partners from across the NHS, local and national government, the third sector and academia. Their published plan, Tackling high blood pressure: from evidence into action, sets out national commitments but also represents a major call to action for all of us – not only health professionals, but employers, the voluntary sector, commissioners and others – to play our part.
Nurses working in all settings – public health, primary care and beyond – have a vital role in this agenda. Here are three ideas of great steps nurses could take at any time.
First, 'make every contact count' when dealing with patients, by proactively offering lifestyle advice on diet (including salt reduction), exercise and alcohol – improvements in these have many wider benefits for individuals, including lowering blood pressure.
Secondly, use appropriate opportunities to check blood pressure, including when patients attend an appointment about another matter.
Thirdly, refresh your knowledge of latest hypertension guidelines – a lot has evolved in terms of detection and management in the last few years. NICE Clinical Guideline 127 or the British Heart Foundation's (BHF's) overview will help.
If you have further interest or energy, take a leadership role in your area, and make links with other healthcare professionals who can support you – through the BHF Alliance, for example.
It is time for us all to play our part in tackling high blood pressure to protect the health of the nation.
Viv Bennett, director of nursing, Public Health England