Action urged on diagnosing high blood pressure

About 115,000 cases of heart and circulatory disease could be prevented over the next 10 years if diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure is improved, research has found.

The British Heart Foundation (BHF) said England currently lags behind a number of other countries such as Canada, the US and Sweden in preventing, diagnosing and treating heart conditions that lead to heart attacks and stroke.

The charity calculated the figures by matching Canada’s rates for diagnosis and treatment of high blood pressure over the next decade, which could lead to an extra 11,500 heart attacks, strokes and other cases of heart and circulatory disease being prevented each year.

It warned progress in reducing early deaths from heart and circulatory diseases has stalled in recent years.

High obesity rates are driving an increase in the number of people with type 2 diabetes, while there are millions of people living with undiagnosed high blood pressure and raised cholesterol, which could all result in a resurgence of heart attacks and strokes, reversing the gains that have been made.

An estimated 13.7 million adults in England have high blood pressure, with around 5.7 million of them undiagnosed.

People with high blood pressure are up to three times more likely to develop heart disease or have a stroke.

Its new five-point action plan for the NHS – Turning Back the Tide on Heart and Circulatory Diseases – highlights that a higher uptake of cardiac rehabilitation among patients in England could lead to nearly 20,000 fewer deaths, and 50,000 fewer hospital admissions, over the next 10 years.

It also emphasises the benefits to the health service of improved treatment and care of heart failure patients.

The charity is urging NHS England to provide better access to cutting edge treatments, a refreshed approach to rehabilitation services, and full exploitation of technology and data science in tackling heart and circulatory disease.

It also calls for increased action from Government, industry and others to address big population-level issues such as poor air quality, obesity and smoking that impact on heath.

Jayne Reynolds, 45, from York, was working as a home care assistant in 2014 when she started to get a twinge of pain in her chest, which became progressively worse during the day.

She said: “I rang the out-of-hours doctor, and explained what had happened that day.

“Within five minutes of explaining my symptoms there was an ambulance outside.

“When they examined me they found that my blood pressure had gone through the roof. I was quite sweaty too, so they wanted me to undergo further tests.

“Later on, the doctor in A&E came in and said ‘I’m afraid you can’t go home – you have just had a heart attack’.

“I felt like the life drained out of me, I was only 41, and I was healthy, with a job – I didn’t know where this had come from.”

She subsequently had a further heart attack and underwent quadruple heart bypass surgery, and can no longer work because of pain caused by unstable angina.

BHF chief executive Simon Gillespie said: “For too long our health system has been responding to life-threatening heart attacks or strokes, rather than detecting and managing the causes.

“Unless we radically change our approach, progress made in recent years could reverse the gains made over recent decades, and thousands of lives could be lost prematurely.”