Cathy McMullan, a Civil Servant from Bangor, suffered what doctors believe to be a silent heart attack and she is sharing her story this World Heart Day in support of Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke’s (NICHS) current blood pressure awareness campaign.
The leading local health charity has concerns around the number of people living with undetected high blood pressure and the fact 1 in 2 heart attacks and strokes are linked to the condition. Cathy’s story highlights how dangerous undetected and untreated high blood pressure can be, and she wants to help educate others and encourage them to get their blood pressure checked.
Cathy recalls; “I’d had a health check with NICHS through my work before and my blood pressure had never been high but this time there were lots of red warning lights coming up throughout my Well Check, including my blood pressure. I was a little overweight at the time, not getting enough exercise and relaxing with a drink most evenings.”
After her health check, Cathy resolved to make positive changes to her life, and she did, losing one and a half stone (9.52 KG). When NICHS’s Well You team returned after 12 weeks for a follow-up health check, Cathy was pleased to find she had greatly improved in many areas – but strangely her blood pressure had actually gone up.
“The top figure (systolic) was high but the bottom figure (diastolic) was off the scale!” Cathy continues; “It made no sense and it concerned me. It bothered me so much that I went to the open surgery at my GP’s the next day. I had an ECG, but instead of being told I was fine, I was kept there. The GP was called back in and started asking what I would call heart attack type questions. I hadn’t experienced any noticeable symptoms such as chest pains; maybe a little indigestion but nothing noteworthy. However, the ECG results were indicating that I’d had a heart attack in the previous few weeks.”
Cathy was immediately put on medication and in hospital follow-up tests showed she had a slightly leaky heart valve.
Cathy says; “The doctors can’t conclusively say whether I did or did not have a heart attack, but the leaky valve indicates that this is a possibility as that damage can be caused by a heart attack.”
“My message to everyone is to get checked. Know your blood pressure and your cholesterol. A doctor would not have picked me out as a likely candidate for a heart attack and yet look what happened. If it hadn’t been for Northern Ireland Chest Heart and Stroke and having that health check, I might never have known. Thanks to them now, most importantly, doctors will continue to monitor my heart with regular echocardiograms in the future. Get checked!”
Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health at NICHS says; “We are very grateful to Cathy for sharing her story as it shows just how dangerous undetected and untreated high blood pressure can be. Approximately 280,317 people, or 15% of the population here in Northern Ireland, are living with high blood pressure¹ but there is a significant proportion of people, around 1 in every 8, who have high blood pressure and do not realise it². This gives us great cause for concern due to the fact 1 in 2 heart attacks and strokes are linked to the condition and it is something our current blood pressure awareness campaign aims to change.”
“Undetected high blood pressure is often known as ‘The Silent Killer’ due to the fact it rarely causes any physical symptoms or warning signs and is often only discovered after someone suffers a stroke or heart attack. The only way to know what your blood pressure is, and if it is high, is to have it measured and that is what we are urging the public to do this World Heart Day.”
Fidelma continues; “A blood pressure check is simple and only takes a few minutes, but it really could help save your life. There are a number of ways you can get your blood pressure checked. You can make an appointment with your GP or visit your local pharmacy which may operate a blood pressure monitoring service. You could also buy a blood pressure machine for home monitoring or alternatively, book an NICHS Well Check, our comprehensive health checks service, at www.nichs.org.uk/get-a-health-check .”
“We are also delighted that our corporate partner MACE is supporting our blood pressure campaign. The NI Chest Heart and Stroke Health Promotion team will be visiting a number of MACE stores throughout October to provide pop-up blood pressure checks to local communities. We want to provide people with a convenient opportunity to get their blood pressure checked. We understand how busy everyday life can be but making time for your health is so important, so why not get a check when you visit the MACE stores for some shopping? The NICHS website and social media channels have all the details about the pop-up checks so please follow us online for more information.”
For further information and support about blood pressure, visit https://nichs.org.uk//your-numbers-up-blood-pressure