'Too many' Australians unaware of high blood pressure health risks

11 March, 2015

A new survey* reveals many Australians are unaware of the serious health risks associated with high blood pressure and often find it difficult to make the recommended lifestyle changes after being diagnosed with high blood pressure.

High blood pressure is the most frequently managed problem by Australian doctors in general practice and affects one in three Australian adults. Although people generally can't feel high blood pressure, it does increase the risk of stroke, heart attack and kidney disease.

Findings revealed a concerning lack of knowledge about the health risks associated with high blood pressure:

  • 1 in 3 surveyed Australians were unaware of the link between high blood pressure and heart attack, heart failure and heart disease.
  • 1 in 3 surveyed Australians didn't realise there is a link between high blood pressure and having a stroke. Half of surveyed respondents in the 35-49 age group were unaware of this risk.
  • 96 per cent of surveyed Australians didn't know there was a link between high blood pressure and kidney disease.

NPS MedicineWise Clinical Adviser Dr Andrew Boyden says: "With high blood pressure so prevalent – affecting 1 in 3 adult Australians – people need to be aware of the health risks associated with the condition and the importance of identifying and managing it to reduce these serious risks.

"Blood pressure measurement is an important component of cardiovascular disease risk assessment. If your blood pressure is consistently high, your health professional will emphasise the importance of leading a healthy lifestyle and may also recommend prescription medicines to lower your blood pressure and reduce your future risk of having a heart attack or stroke or developing kidney disease."

Doctors advising to modify lifestyle

Positively, Australian doctors are advising patients with high blood pressure to modify their lifestyle – 79 per cent of those surveyed had received lifestyle advice. But the survey findings suggest that making changes is proving difficult for many Australians with high blood pressure:

  • 1 in 3 were not exercising more.
  • 1 in 5 reported not lowering their salt intake.
  • 2 in 3 people who were advised to lose weight – didn't.
  • 50 per cent of people who were advised to quit smoking – didn't.

"Maybe some people are not making healthy lifestyle changes because they are unaware of the serious health risks associated with high blood pressure," says Dr Boyden.

Systematic approach

The latest program from NPS MedicineWise emphasises the importance of taking a systematic approach to monitoring and managing high blood pressure. This includes:

  • Regular checking of blood pressure – your health professional may recommend home blood pressure monitoring or wearing a 24-hour monitor.
  • Keeping a record of blood pressure measurements and an up-to-date list of medicines.
  • Knowing your blood pressure goal.
  • Making lifestyle changes as recommended by a doctor.
  • Taking medicines as prescribed.

"High blood pressure rarely makes people feel bad, so it's important for people prescribed a blood pressure lowering medicine to understand that taking medicines as directed is important. Even if you are feeling fine, do not stop taking medicines without talking to your doctor," says Dr Boyden.

*Online survey by Galaxy Research of 1,136 Australian adults undertaken for NPS MedicineWise, 4-6 February, 2015