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Undiagnosed hypertension cases in England a ‘tragedy for public health’

Undiagnosed hypertension cases in England a ‘tragedy for public health’

There are ‘considerable’ numbers of young people in England living with undiagnosed high blood pressure, analysis by the Office of National Statistics (ONS) has suggested.

An estimated 32% of all adults in England have high blood pressure, the analysis found, and almost a third of those (29%) were currently undiagnosed. This could equate to approximately 4.2 million adults with undiagnosed hypertension.

The ONS analysis also found that young people aged between 16-24 were particularly at risk of having their condition go undiagnosed, with 66% of males and 26% of females in this age group estimated to have undiagnosed hypertension.

Professor Graham MacGregor, chair of the charity Blood Pressure UK, told Nursing in Practice the considerable level of undiagnosed hypertension cases across the country was a ‘tragedy for public health’, and had been exacerbated by inaction on unhealthy food sales.

‘Nurses play a critical role in general practice… in tracking down people with high blood pressure, advising people how to take lifestyle measures, and prescribing drugs,’ said Professor MacGregor.

‘Most general practices now have a very good set up with practice nurses mainly running most of the service and treating people with high blood pressure.’

Hypertension was defined by the ONS as having a blood pressure of 140 over 90 millimetres of mercury (mmHg) or above, however Professor MacGregor pointed out that even levels below this threshold can put patients at risk.

Also responding to the analysis, cardiovascular specialist nurse Michaela Nuttall, highlighted the need to ‘maximise the opportunities’ of home monitoring and ambulatory blood pressure services, as well as ensuring that nurses use language that patients can understand and engage with to improve health literacy.

In addition, she said nurses must be ‘really proactive in seeking out high blood pressure in people where we know its more likely to be’, especially among those who are from minority ethnic backgrounds.

The study found that while young adults were proportionately more likely to be undiagnosed, the highest number of estimated cases of undiagnosed hypertension were among men between 55-64 years old. The ONS estimated that there were 500,000 men in this age range currently living with hypertension that has not been diagnosed.

Risk of hypertension being undiagnosed was also proportionally higher in men living in rural areas, all those living in regions outside of London, and those who did not smoke.

Chris Shine, a statistician for the ONS said there were ‘considerable numbers of younger, healthier people who are undiagnosed’.

Mr Shine hoped that the analysis will ‘provide valuable insight for health services and those who work to improve health outcomes’.

‘It may also raise awareness among the general population, leading to more timely diagnoses in the future,’ he said.


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