Almost half of Irish people with high blood pressure are unaware of their condition, a new study has found.
Furthermore many of those who are taking medication still do not have normal blood pressure control.
The study was carried out by researchers at the Irish Longitudinal Study on Ageing (TILDA), a national study of over 8,000 people aged 50 and older. This research is being lead by a team at Trinity College Dublin (TCD).
High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is a major cause of heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and premature death. However, it rarely carries any signs or symptoms. In fact, a person can look and feel well even if they have it.
The only way to know if you have high blood pressure is to have it checked by a health professional, such as a GP or pharmacist.
The TILDA researchers set out to assess the impact of the condition on older people in Ireland and found that 64% of people over the age of 50 have it - that is 797,000 people.
However, 45% of people with high blood pressure were unaware they had it. This lack of awareness was higher in men and in the youngest group examined - those aged between 50 and 64 years.
Among those on medication for the condition, almost half still did not have normal levels of blood pressure.
Meanwhile, the study also noted that older people with no medical card were much less likely to be on medication compared to those with medical cards.
According to the study's lead author, Dr Catriona Murphy of TCD, these findings are a cause for concern because high blood pressure is often a ‘silent condition with no symptoms until it has caused damage to organs such as the heart and kidneys'.
"The study results are consistent with this silent profile. The level of awareness we found in this Irish study is a combination of individual lack of awareness of the condition and the absence of a comprehensive system to detect this important risk factor in the community.
"In addition, the finding that respondents with no medical card were less likely to have their blood pressure treated suggests that policy directed towards reducing the financial barrier to healthcare and medication has the potential to impact positively on the long-term management of high blood pressure in Ireland," she said.
Also commenting on the findings, TILDA principal investigator, Prof Rose Anne Kenny, described this issue as a ‘major public health challenge for Irish society'.
"It requires a population-wide focus on healthier lifestyles including weight management, regular physical activity, smoking cessation and restriction of salt and alcohol intake. This study calls for action to implement a structured programme in primary care to improve prevention, detection and management of high blood pressure in Ireland," she added.