Make a New Year’s Resolution to take Control of your Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)!

Galway University Hospitals leading the way with emerging treatments for resistant hypertension

Croí and Heart Specialists at Galway University Hospital are encouraging people to make a New Year’s Resolution this year to take control of their high blood pressure.

“Uncontrolled high blood pressure is a leading cause of heart attacks and stroke. Because there are no obvious symptoms, very often people assume it’s nothing to worry about. However, high blood pressure needs to be treated and managed so as to avoid a serious heart event or a catastrophic stroke,” says Prof. Faisal Sharif, Consultant Cardiologist, Galway University Hospitals.

Startlingly, it is estimated that over half of all adults in Ireland over the age of 45 are living with high blood pressure, also known as hypertension. High blood pressure is a sign that the heart and blood vessels are being overworked which in turn increases your risk of having a heart attack or a stroke. It can also lead to other conditions such as aneurysm, heart failure, problems with your vision and kidney failure.

Know Your Numbers!

High blood pressure is when your blood pressure readings are consistently more than 140 over 90 over several readings. If you are on a treatment for high blood pressure, the target for most people is to have a blood pressure below 130/80mmHg, particularly if you have had a cardiac event or stroke, have other risk factors, or have diabetes. Taking control of your blood pressure is a major positive step towards reducing your overall risk of having a heart attack or stroke. You can do this by following the medical advice of your doctor, by having regular check-ups, by taking your medication as prescribed and by making positive lifestyle changes in areas such as diet and exercise.

Difficult to Control Hypertension:

There are a number of reasons why sometimes it may be difficult to control your blood pressure. Firstly, about 15-30% of the population who have high blood pressure do not respond to the blood pressure medications. This is known as “Resistant Hypertension”. Secondly, a large number of patients are intolerant of the blood pressure medications with frequent side effects. Inability to take medications can make it very difficult to manage blood pressure.

A team of consultants in Galway, including Prof Faisal Sharif, are now leading the way in treating this problem at the Difficult to Treat Hypertension Clinic, based in Merlin Park Hospital, which assesses patients and investigates the reason for poor blood pressure control. Despite lifestyle changes and medication changes, if the blood pressure remains elevated patients can be referred for medical device based treatment for high blood pressure. One such treatment is known as Renal Denervation (RDN). RDN is a minimally invasive procedure specifically used to treat resistant hypertension. This procedure can be performed with multiple emerging technologies, including radio-frequency, ultrasound, and chemical ablation methods to modify sympathetic nerves in the renal arteries, which decreases blood pressure.

Act now and take control of your high blood pressure. For more information on hypertension, its treatment, and research currently underway at the Medical Device Clinical Trial Unit based at National University of Ireland and the Department of Cardiology, Galway University Hospital Galway, Ireland, visit www.croi.ie/hypertension.

New Report Highlights Recovery Benefits for Heart Patients of New Digital Health Initiative that seeks to Prevent Future Cardiac Events

Outcomes for Croí’s MySláinte Programme Reveals Significant Improvements in Physical Activity, Blood Pressure Control and Cholesterol Levels for Participants

Pictured from left: Irene Gibson, Director of Programmes and Innovation, NIPC and PhD candidate; Dr. Lisa Hynes - Head of Health Programmes, Croí; and Neil Johnson - Chief Executive, Croí.

A report published today on the outcomes of an innovative digital cardiovascular disease prevention and recovery programme developed by Croí, the Irish heart and stroke charity, has found that it has delivered significant health improvements for participants. The report has now been presented to the Minister for Health & Children, Stephen Donnelly TD, who officially opened its virtual launch this afternoon at an event attended by stakeholders.

The Croí MySláinte programme, funded by the Government of Ireland’s Sláintecare Integration Fund 2019, had to be delivered virtually due to restrictions on traditional healthcare delivery imposed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Croí’s pivot to virtual delivery involved the creation of a newly-developed interactive platform, which enabled participants to access the programme from the comfort and safety of their home, including access to pre-recorded videos, resources and links to weekly live Zoom sessions. The core components of the programme included lifestyle modifications such as smoking cessation, healthy food choices and physical activity; medical risk factor management of blood pressure, cholesterol and glucose; and electronic prescribing of cardio-protective medication where appropriate.

A total of 105 people, who had experienced a cardiac event such as a heart attack, opted to take part in the initiative. Participants were aged between 35 and 84 years and were referred from cardiac centres across the west of Ireland, including Galway, Mayo, Sligo, Limerick and Donegal. Following a total of 423 virtual consultations over a period of 12 weeks, a range of health improvements resulted for those involved, including:

  • Physical activity levels increased almost six-fold
  • Blood pressure control improved from 24% to 68%
  • LDL cholesterol target achievement increased from 14% to 41%
  • Over half of participants (57%) lost more than 2% of their body weight, with almost a quarter (23%) losing 5% or more
  • Anxiety and depression levels among participants were reduced by more than half.

Many of the participants were also living with other health issues such as diabetes, arthritis, chronic kidney disease and cancer, meaning wider benefits for their other conditions also.

Participants were empowered to manage their health and well-being, stress and emotional eating. Advice was also provided on making and maintaining lifestyle changes in the areas of sleep hygiene, sexual health and returning to work. In addition, participants were provided with a Fitbit device to track their daily exercise activity, as well as blood pressure monitors for home measurement, and food and exercise diaries to help monitor progress towards their goals.

The programme, which was overseen by a consultant cardiologist, was delivered by a specialist interdisciplinary health team comprised of a cardiovascular nurse prescriber, a physiotherapist and a dietitian.

Leading Cause of Death

Dr Lisa Hynes, Head of Health Programmes at Croí, comments:
We know that every year approximately 10,000 people die here from cardiovascular disease or CVD. Globally, and in Ireland, CVD is the leading cause of death and disability with approximately half of all deaths occurring in those with the disease. Cardiac rehabilitation programmes, which are traditionally provided as a face-to-face activity, are proven to reduce cardiovascular death and disability.

Through the virtual Croí MySláinte programme, we’re proud to have developed a new way to deliver this care with clinical outcomes that are comparable with those observed in traditional face-to-face programmes.

“One of the really welcome outcomes of the programme was the improvement in meeting physical activity targets, which increased from 14% to 82%. Achieving this level of physical activity has been shown to provide a 20-30% reduction in cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and strokes. Equally, improvements in weight management, LDL cholesterol levels, blood pressure, anxiety and depression, are all associated with significant reductions in overall cardiovascular risk.

Right Care, Right Place, Right Time

Neil Johnson, CEO of Croí, adds:
The results of this programme speak for themselves and like so many other post-pandemic changes, I believe that future healthcare delivery will never be the same again. I am convinced that the future of cardiovascular health programmes such as this must involve a hybrid approach of both in-person and virtual delivery.

With Croí MySláinte, we saw that age is not a barrier to accessing or participating in a digital online programme. With support, people of any age can engage once they have access to the basics of a device and access to broadband. Our programme saw an uptake of over 70% and retention of over 80%, with participants describing the programme as ‘life-changing’ and ‘life-saving’.

We know that in pre-pandemic Ireland, we had historically poor uptake of cardiovascular disease prevention and rehabilitation programmes. Providing a mix of both online and in-person approaches means that we can improve uptake levels and be responsive to patient needs. Equally, with increased uptake in a more timely manner, we could minimise waiting lists while maximising patient care. All this is directly in line with the Sláintecare mission of providing the right care, in the right place, and at the right time.

The full report and patient testimonials are available to read at www.croi.ie/MySlainte.

For anyone concerned about their heart health or seeking information on heart disease or stroke, contact Croí’s health team on 091 544310 or visit www.croi.ie

To keep up-to-date on the work of Croí, follow @CroiHeartStroke on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

Freezer Friendly Foods

Making the most out of your freezer is a great way to keep a well-stocked kitchen while minimising food waste. A well stocked freezer also serves to reduce the frequency of supermarket trips.

Traditionally, frozen foods have been viewed as processed or seen as less healthy, however, these days there is so much choice when it comes to frozen healthy food as well as many fresh foods which freeze surprisingly well!

Here are our top tips to healthy, freezer friendly foods and two useful kitchen skills explained.

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Blanching:

Here is how to blanch vegetables before freezing. Blanching is a process in which you boil or steam vegetables briefly until they are partially cooked. It is an essential step before freezing many vegetables like starchy vegetables (such as potato, sweet potato, carrots and parsnips).

  1. Place the chopped vegetables in a saucepan of cold water.
  2. Put in on the stove over a high heat until boiling.
  3. Once boiling, remove from the heat and run under cold water to cool.
  4. Place the blanched vegetables into freezer bags or containers and place in the freezer.

Tray freeze:
Use this method for freezing your own fruit and non-starchy vegetables without them clumping together.

  1. Chop your veg and lay flat in one layer on a baking tray.
  2. Place in the freezer.
  3. Once frozen you can transfer to Tupperware boxes and pop back into the freezer.
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Frozen vegetables are equally as nutritious as fresh vegetables. Where they can differ is in texture with some being more suitable for freezing than others. Generally speaking vegetables with a higher water content don’t freeze as well and certain vegetables such as broccoli and asparagus can become stringy in texture. Aside from the usual: frozen peas, sweet corn and mixed veg, there are so many other vegetables that can be frozen to help make life that bit easier! Starchy vegetables (such as potato, sweet potato, carrots and parsnips) freeze best when blanched before freezing.

Diced onion:
A great idea for those who want to avoid the tears and save themselves from all that chopping! You can buy bags of frozen chopped onion and add to dishes as needed where they will quickly defrost while cooking.

Peppers:
Sliced peppers freeze very well and can then be thrown into a wok or saucepan as needed where they will defrost while cooking.

Stir-fry mix:
Whether shop bought or freeze at home, thinly sliced peppers, onions, carrots, broccoli, sweet corn and beansprouts all work well.

Spinach:
While frozen spinach won’t make for a great salad, it works well in cooked dishes such as pasta, casseroles or soups.

Tomato-based sauces:
With or without vegetables, these freeze really well. Simply defrost and serve with chicken or fish for a heart healthy meal with minimal effort.

Fruit:
Berries freeze especially well as do grapes. Frozen berries can then be added into warm porridge, grapes can be eaten frozen and bananas added to smoothies.

Avocado:
While you can freeze avocados, it does change the texture of them. They are best used from frozen for sauces or smoothies rather than on toast, for example.

Fish:
Frozen fish is convenient, less expensive and just as tasty as fresh fish.  Salmon, cod, hake, plaice and prawns are just some of the options available to us. Try to avoid breaded or battered fish and instead opt for plain or lightly seasoned. You can bake it in the oven straight from frozen with lemon and herbs and serve with vegetables and potatoes for a delicious, heart healthy meal.

Lemons:
Pre-cut slices of lemons or limes can be frozen and then used to add to dishes such as baked chicken or fish. Lemon juice can be frozen in an ice-cube tray and the cubes added to dishes or to a refreshing glass of water.

Herbs:
Fresh herbs like parsley, coriander and mint can be easily frozen and cut as needed. Alternatively you can freeze them with a little water in an ice-cube tray. Fresh ginger can be frozen and easily grated into dishes as needed. Chopped garlic can also be frozen which is a great time-saver. Equally you can buy herbs and spices frozen, however it is generally more cost effective to do so yourself.

Potatoes:
Yes, potatoes can be frozen! It’s best to chop to your desired size and avoid using very large potatoes. Blanch them first then place them in the freezer. You can then microwave, fry, bake or boil them from frozen with reduced cooking time. A great idea to pre-prepare homemade wedges.

Rice:
It’s best to slightly under-cook rice that you intend to freeze as otherwise it can crumble. Use the tray freeze method to freeze in one layer in zip-lock bags which will then defrost in very little time and can easily be added to dishes as needed.

Bread:
While some of us freeze bread regularly, most of us defrost it by the loaf which then has to be used in a couple of days. To reduce waste why not store your bread in the freezer and defrost slices as you need them?

Beans and lentils:
You can make a whole bag of dried beans or lentils at once, let them cool and then divide into zip-lock bags and store them in the freezer. When you’re ready to use them, smack the bag on the counter a few times to loosen and add directly to whatever you’re making. For best results, under cook them slightly initially and they’ll cook a little more in whatever dish you add them to.

Home baking:
With more time at home, you may be finding yourself with more homemade treats like cakes, biscuits or buns. A great way to ensure you enjoy the treats in moderation without overindulging is to freeze some to have for later. This was you won’t feel tempted to finish them off while they are still fresh!

Meals:
Many soups, stews, casseroles, chilies, curries, burgers and meatballs (raw or cooked) and pancakes (defrost in the toaster) are all popular, freezer friendly meals. Milk, raw egg (not in its shell), butter, cheese and nuts can all be frozen as well.

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Foods to avoid freezing:

  • Cream-based soups
  • Fried foods
  • Vegetables with a high water content such as cucumber and cabbage
  • Fully cooked rice or pasta
  • Hard boiled eggs.

For advice on food safety while freezing please visit Safe Food.

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