Recent research & projects in Mayo supported by Croí, the West of Ireland Cardiac & Stroke Foundation, indicate that there is much work to be done in our communities to reduce the impact of cardiovascular disease (CVD), including heart attack and stroke.
A survey of over 45’s in Co. Mayo, conducted recently by Ipsos on behalf of Croí, reveals that the majority of respondents (75%) believe they have a good understanding of cardiovascular health, but almost half (45%) of those surveyed do not see heart health as a top priority.
According to Croí, these findings are a cause for concern because these beliefs are at odds with the fact that over 35% of those surveyed have three or more risk factors for heart disease or stroke, which could include high cholesterol, high blood pressure or a family history of CVD.
Additionally, almost half of those surveyed (44%) have a family history of heart disease and 41% are current or previous smokers. “Taken together, these findings highlight the pressing need to empower people in this age group and equip them with the knowledge & tools to take better control of their heart health”, says Croí’s Head of Health Programmes, Dr Lisa Hynes.
Cardiovascular diseases are among the most common long-term conditions in Ireland and the second leading cause of death. Many factors contribute to our risk of developing cardiovascular disease and this risk can be greatly reduced by tackling behaviours such as tobacco use, unhealthy diet, obesity, physical inactivity and alcohol intake. The health of our cardiovascular system is central to overall health and early detection plays a key role, such as regular blood pressure (BP) measurement, an important indicator of the force behind the movement of blood in the body, and the health of the cardiovascular system.
County Mayo has one of the highest number of over 55’s in Ireland, with almost a third of the population being in this age category, making healthy ageing a priority for the people of Mayo. In 2020, Croí launched the Third Age Mayo project to support individuals, families and communities to engage with their cardiovascular health to promote healthy ageing. This initiative is supported by HSE Community Healthcare West, Mayo businesses, fundraising and community funding.
One of the leading drivers of heart disease and stroke is hypertension (high blood pressure over a particular level, diagnosed by a doctor). It is a serious but manageable condition that affects almost two-thirds of Irish adults over the age of 50. Despite the high levels of hypertension in Ireland and worldwide, it is a condition that is easily detected, and which can be effectively treated to minimise the risk of an event like a stroke.
Croí worked with Ipsos to design and conduct a survey of 400 people aged over 45 in Mayo. The survey was designed to investigate themes related to awareness and understanding of CVD prevention according to adults in Mayo. An impressive 83% could list 3 or more heart disease risk factors including inactivity and poor diet. However, awareness of the role of medical risk factors like raised blood pressure and diabetes may be lower, mentioned by 15% and 6% respectively.
Croí’s Chief Executive Neil Johnson commented “While it is encouraging that the people surveyed had a good awareness of CVD risk factors like diet and exercise, it’s very concerning that awareness of the role of factors like high blood pressure and uncontrolled diabetes was much lower”.
Most participants (86%) reported engaging with a health service provider within the last year for checks such as a pulse and blood pressure (BP) check. Participants described themselves as engaging regularly with a range of health-promoting activities such as being physically active and managing alcohol intake, but also experienced barriers including lack of time, motivation and inconvenience.
In particular, people aged 45-54 were more likely (65%) than people over 55 to experience multiple barriers to daily health-promoting activities. Overall, participants appreciated the importance of cardiovascular health and 87% believed that it was in their control to take care of their heart health. However, 60% believed they could be doing more to improve their overall heart health.
To raise awareness in Mayo about hypertension and the importance of regular BP monitoring, Croí has partnered with the global BP awareness campaign, May Measurement Month. Over four campaigns in 2021 and 2022, Croí Mayo Measurement Month took place in more than 30 pharmacies across Mayo and was attended by more than 1200 people. Croí’s report on this campaign described that just under half (48%) of the people tested in Mayo had high BP at the time of testing. About half (46%) of the people with a high BP were already aware of their condition, suggesting that the other half were unaware that they may have a problem. Under half of the people with a high BP reading (43%) were prescribed medication for their hypertension, indicating that many people in the community may be in need of assessment and treatment. Importantly, this campaign highlighted that only 226, or 50% of the group who were prescribed medication for their hypertension appeared to have their BP under control, suggesting that 50% of people previously diagnosed with hypertension and prescribed treatment, had a BP reading over the recommended target.
“It is important to note that taking BP medication is proven to be highly effective at lowering BP and cardiovascular risk. However, there are many reasons why people’s BP is not controlled such as non-adherence to medication. This is often due to concerns around side-effects or beliefs about medication and illness and can act as a barrier to BP control and inadvertently increase people’s risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke”, says Professor Barry McDonnell, Cardiff Metropolitan University and May Measurement Month lead for the UK and Ireland.
Given the level of risk factors in this group and established trends in the development of CVD as we age, the data gathered by Croí in Mayo demonstrates that it is time to shine a light on CVD and the urgent need to activate individuals, families, communities, and indeed Government to prioritise cardiovascular health. Croí is launching Mayo Measurement Month again this March in partnership with pharmacies across Mayo. Anyone interested in checking their BP or pulse can find out about participating pharmacies by visiting croi.ie/thirdagemayo