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Gibraltar’s blood pressure: the real story behind the statistics

When the Chronicle published GHA data claiming nearly half the population had high blood pressure, even senior health officials were stunned by their own findings.

The data, contained in a report tabled at the last GHA board meeting, suggested 15,000 people had been diagnosed with high blood pressure. Contacted for comment by this newspaper prior to publication, officials said the figure highlighted the importance of awareness and healthy lifestyle choices.

But after the story ran, the scale of the perceived problem prompted both health officials and this newspaper to dig deeper into the numbers in the GHA report.

The data, it now turns out, contained a typographical error. The Chronicle story was accurate, but the GHA had inadvertently added 10,000 patients to the real total, which in fact was just under 5,000.

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is still a serious problem and the most commonly diagnosed condition in Gibraltar, with 14% of the overall population diagnosed.

This spikes to 45% for those over 60, meaning close to half of the population over 60 has hypertension.

Hypertension is practically non-existent in those aged below 40 with rate under 1%. The rate increases for those aged between 40 and 60, with 16% of this age group being diagnosed with hypertension.

Director of Public Health Dr Vijay Kumar discussed the statistics with the Chronicle. He said the local average rate of 14% was on par with the UK.

The rate in the UK ranges between 8% and 18% depending on the region.

The current total figure of those with hypertension in Gibraltar is 4,741, of this figure 2,331 are men and 2,410 are women.
Locally there are more women diagnosed with hypertension than men, but according to Dr Kumar this could be because men have a shorter life expectancy.

As the risk of hypertension is far more prevalent in those over 60 it means women are living longer with hypertension than men, who die at an earlier age.

Dr Kumar explained that a large number of cases are genetic and hypertension develops through age.

Also once diagnosed with hypertension the patient will continue to have the illness for the rest of their lives.

Smoking is a large risk factor with patients recommended to kick the habit. Patients are also recommended to reduce the amount of salt in their diet.

Dr Kumar highlighted concerns with undiagnosed hypertension as the condition has no symptoms. He added that a lot of people have hypertension but just don’t know it.

Symptoms develop later on and are usually due to secondary illnesses such as headaches and neck pains. If untreated, hypertension can cause damage to the heart and circulatory system.

Dr Kumar recommends that all people aged between 40 and 60 have regular check-ups at least once every three years with their GP at the Primary Care Centre.

Hypertension is not a curable condition but can be controlled through the use of drugs and improvements to lifestyle. The patient’s dependence on drugs can be reduced if the condition improves.

Arteries harden naturally as we age and this is one of the main causes of hypertension and as a result the condition is not curable. To improve the condition lifestyle and diet changes are recommended.

If untreated hypertension is a major risk factor for coronary artery disease, stroke, heart failure and chronic kidney disease.
The Primary Care Centre has set out objectives, outlined in the GHA Board Report to promote health education and prevent secondary effects.

The objectives are to increase the detection and treatment of undiagnosed hypertension through routine screening and to ensure that patients taking antihypertensive drugs are controlled to optimal blood pressure levels.

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