Knowing your numbers could save your life

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Knowing your numbers could save your life.
For Adelaide resident Shannon Jasson, a trip to the doctor revealed more about her health than she expected. When she was 26 years old and newly-pregnant with her first child, Shannon discovered she had high blood pressure (hypertension).

“I was quite shocked. At first, I thought it was pregnancy-related but a couple of weeks after my son, Hamish was born, it spiked back up again,” Shannon said.

“I was aware we had a family history of hypertension as both my mum and my grandmother have it, but I assumed it was an ‘older person’s thing’. I was a robust, healthy, twenty-something who rarely visited doctors except for the odd bout of tonsillitis.”

On 17 May 2018, the Heart Foundation calls upon Australians to ‘Know Your Numbers’ for World Hypertension Day. This day aims to raise awareness of the dangers of high blood pressure (hypertension).

“Too many Australians don’t know their blood pressure numbers and that’s putting them at risk of heart attack, stroke and kidney disease,” Heart Foundation Chief Medical Advisor Professor Garry Jennings said.

“High blood pressure is a silent killer, as there can be no obvious signs or symptoms associated with it. In Australia, more deaths can be put down to high blood pressure than to any other single risk factor.”

Shannon had gone to see her mum’s GP for the first time to get a full health check for her pregnancy. When the doctor looked over Shannon’s records, the GP discovered she’d had high blood pressure in the past.

“My GP was quite upset no-one had told me that I’d had consistent high blood pressure. I didn’t have any symptoms that suggested it was a problem. I felt fine,” Shannon said.

“I don’t know why previous doctors hadn’t mentioned it to me before. Maybe it was because I was young or they thought it was elevated because I was sick with tonsillitis.

“The scariest thing is when you realise you’ve had it for so long and to think something could have happened to me,” she said.

Blood pressure does naturally varies, but a reading under 120/80 is considered optimal. Readings over 120/80mmHg and up to 139/89mmHg are in the normal to high normal range. The reading measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart pumps (120) and when it relaxes between each beat (80).

Professor Jennings said, “Six million Australians – a third of the adult population - have hypertension. What’s most concerning is, two in three Australians with hypertension have untreated or uncontrolled high blood pressure.”

“Surprisingly, almost ten per cent of Australians aged 25‑34 years have high blood pressure.”

“Left unchecked, high blood pressure damages the blood vessels in the heart and brain. This places greater strain on the heart, causing the heart muscle to thicken,” he said.

Shannon said her doctor put her on medication which stabilised her blood pressure during her first pregnancy. However, in the last two weeks of her term, Shannon was hospitalised as her blood pressure skyrocketed off the charts.

Professor Jennings said knowing your numbers is the first important step in taking control of your health.

“All Australian adults should be getting their blood pressure checked by a doctor or health practitioner on a regular basis. And for people 45 years and over, they should get it checked every two years. For indigenous Australians, it should be from the age of 35 years and over.”

“By making a few simple lifestyle changes, like reducing salt, eating a healthy diet, being active and not smoking, it helps reduce high blood pressure. For some people, medication may be required to control it.”

“Walking for at least 30 minutes a day is one of the easiest ways to address high blood pressure, high blood cholesterol, weight and obesity issues and can help reduce a person’s risk of heart disease by 35 per cent.”

Shannon said nearly six years on she has her blood pressure under control and she feels great.

“Back in your twenties, you don’t think about what you’re eating - you eat silly things at stupid times,” she said.

“Even though I love salt, I worked hard to reduce it in my diet and to eat healthier foods. I also joined a gym and made a conscious effort to exercise or be active – a little bit every day. Now I go to the doctor to get my blood pressure checked every three months.”

Professor Jennings said, “This May, I encourage everyone to ‘Know Your Numbers’ by visiting a doctor or health professional to get your blood pressure checked. It could save your life.”

Learn more about knowing your risks for high blood pressure and how to prevent it.

Media enquiries:

Debora McInnes, Media and Campaigns Adviser, Heart Foundation, 0423 827 697 or