Healthy Town blog: A chance encounter lowers the blood pressure

‘High blood pressure is a huge risk so it’s important to get checked out’

A lot of people don’t realise they have high blood pressure so it is important to get checked. Photograph: Thinkstock

A lot of people don’t realise they have high blood pressure so it is important to get checked. Photograph: Thinkstock


High blood pressure is a huge risk, so go and check it out. That was the advice from a woman who controlled her spiralling blood pressure after a chance encounter with a nurse.

Maura Canning, a farmer from east Galway, was speaking at a presentation on heart health as part of the Irish Times/Pfizer Healthy Town initiative in Athlone.

Ms Canning, who is a prominent member of the Irish Farming Association (IFA), was so busy with her family, farm and work that she didn’t pay much attention to her health, until she realised that her blood pressure was rising.

“Three years ago I was attending an agri-conference in Killarney. I went to the Irish Heart Foundation nurses and they did my blood pressure. It was 147/111 (the ideal blood pressure is 120/80).”

“I had no symptoms. I was just tired during the day and couldn’t sleep at night. It was like something was running around in my head. The blood flow was running the whole time. That was a sign of blood pressure but I didn’t know that,” she told the gathering at the Sheraton Athlone Hotel.

Maura was advised to go to her doctor and two days later she did. The blood pressure was still high and she felt it was down to a busy lifestyle. She bought a blood pressure monitor and found that the blood pressure was rising; it reached a level of 224/118. She eventually spent a week in hospital and despite numerous tests, nothing was found.

“It was down to pure stress. For two months I couldn’t do anything,” she said.

She gradually recovered and has learned to say ‘No!’

“You can be a walking time bomb and you wouldn’t even know. I was lucky I didn’t get a heart attack or a stroke. The consultant said the only thing that saved me was I was so fit,” she said.

Now, Maura is in great health and manages her time better. She attributes her good health to the Irish Heart Foundation and knows she was lucky that she had that chance encounter with the nurse.

The Foundation’s Medical Director Dr Angie Brown told the seminar that 40,000 blood pressure checks are carried out throughout the year.

“It is important to get the blood pressure checked. A lot of people who have high blood pressure don’t realise they have it,” she said.

Diet and exercise are vital, in an effort to keep blood pressure levels normal, she said. Adults should spend between 2.5 and 5 hours on physical activity every week. “That’s 30 minutes five times a week. It reduces the risk of heart disease and stroke and diabetes, improves cholesterol and helps with blood pressure,” she said.

She also stressed the importance of a healthy diet. Portion sizes are increasing and need to be monitored. Dr Brown’s advice: get a smaller plate, eat more fish, fruit and vegetables, wholegrain foods and cut back on cakes, processed foods and fatty foods.

  • This is the final week of the eight-week Healthy Town project in Athlone and this week’s theme is breaking bad habits. A talk with Dr Pat Harrold will take place at the Sheraton Athlone Hotel on Wednesday next at 7pm.