Irish blood pressure problem revealed in international study

High rates of hypertension, and underdiagnosis of the condition, highlighted in Lancet

High blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Photograph: iStock

High blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease. Photograph: iStock

 

Ireland has one of the highest rates of high blood pressure internationally, but among the lowest levels of diagnosis, treatment and control of the condition, according to new research.

A study of people from 12 high-income countries found that men and women from Ireland were least likely to have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, given medication to treat the condition or have it controlled.

Irish men ranked second for prevalence of hypertension, at 56 per cent. Only Finland, at 59 per cent, was worse. Irish women ranked fourth, at 43 per cent, according to the study, published in the Lancet.

High blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for stroke, heart disease and kidney disease, but it can be treated effectively with medication.

The study by scientists at Imperial College London looked at 123 national surveys conducted over the past 40 years, involving more than 525,000 people aged 40-80.

Over the period, awareness and treatment of high blood pressure increased in the 12 countries surveyed, though more of the improvements had been achieved by the mid-2000s.

Just 56 per cent of Irish women had been tested for hypertension, compared with 86 per cent in the US and 87 per cent in Germany.

Amid wide variations in performance, Canada, Germany, South Korea and the US had the highest levels of awareness, treatment and control, while Finland, Ireland, Japan and Spain had the lowest.

Lagging behind

Just 56 per cent of Irish women had been tested for hypertension, compared with 86 per cent in the US and 87 per cent in Germany. The corresponding figure for Irish men was 46 per cent, well below the highest figure of 84 per cent, recorded in Canada.

Just 17 per cent of Irish men with high blood pressure had it under control with medication, compared with 69 per cent in Canada, the study found. The equivalent figure for women in Ireland was 26 per cent.

The study says the countries with the best performance are those with national programmes for hypertension education or check-ups to monitor the condition.

The researchers said barriers to accessing medical care, such as GP fees or co-payments required by health insurers, had an impact on how often people saw their doctor and had their blood pressure measured, whether medicines were prescribed and whether patients ultimately complied with their treatment.

Hypertension is defined in the study as systolic blood pressure of 140mm Hg or more, or diastolic blood pressure of 90mm Hg or more, or being on pharmacological treatment for the condition.