High blood pressure affects as many as 16 million people in Britain. And among that number is celebrity comedian, Jenny Eclair.
More commonly cracking jokes or complaining about the latest fad on Grumpy Old Women than giving health advice, today she's opened up about her recent health scare, in the hope that it will encourage others to take action.
Just a few weeks before embarking on her new tour, Jenny discovered from a GP appointment that her blood pressure was not just high, but worryingly high. With a family history of heart disease, her doctor quickly asked her to try a 24-hour blood pressure monitor that led to her being diagnosed with hypertension –a condition that has barely noticeable symptoms but increases your risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure.
"High blood pressure is a combination of genetics, lifestyle and bad luck and it means your heart has to work a bit harder" Jenny says. "My blood pressure has been hovering around the upper limits of normal for some years – but I don’t think we need to get competitive about numbers!"
Her unstable blood pressure also put her at risk of developing atrial fibrillation (AF), the most common form of irregular heart rhythm that causes 20 per cent of all strokes in the UK. Around a million people in the UK suffer with the condition, but detecting it early can reduce the risk of having a stroke by 67 per cent.
While Jenny hasn't got atrial fibrillation yet, she's now teamed up with Boots to promote their DIY blood pressure monitor that can also detect AF and so get people the help they need early.
"I’m a natural worrier so getting news about my blood pressure did nothing to assure me that I was looking after myself properly!" says Jenny. "As my much loved dad suffered with coronary disease I thought I was pretty clued up about what I needed to do to keep me out of the risk zone."
"I’m on a diuretic at the moment and we will monitor the situation regularly. Side effects are different for everyone and vary from drug to drug, many people have no side effects whatsoever. I would very much hope to be medication free at some point.
"I’m working with Boots to raise awareness of AF, which is when your heart doesn’t beat regularly all the time, causing the upper chambers of your heart to stop clearing blood efficiently, meaning left over blood can pool and clot, increasing your risk of having a stroke. Again, once detected, it is treatable, but detection can be tricky as the condition isn’t always present, hence, having an at home monitor might spot it when a visit to the GP may not" says Jenny.
The risk of having high blood pressure does increase with age and post-menopausal women are also more likely to develop high blood pressure than men of the same age. But making clever choices about your lifestyle and cutting down on certain things can make all the difference and for some people, means high blood pressure can be managed naturally and without the need for drugs.
"Health worries are part and parcel of being a woman of a certain age. I don't know a middle aged woman who doesn’t lie in bed at night catastrophising about their health– it's natural."
"But my advice to women would be: don’t take your health for granted, move your bum, try and find an exercise you actually like, or buy a dog! Stop smoking (if you haven’t done already) and cut down on the booze. Oh yes, swim, buy a nice all-in-one floral cozzie and swim" says Jenny.
- The Boots Pharmaceuticals Advanced Blood Pressure Monitor with Breakthrough Atrial Fibrillation Alert is available in stores and online now at £129.99
- You can find more tips on reducing your blood pressure and looking after your heart here
- There's more health advice in every issue of Yours magazine, out every fortnight on a Tuesday.