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Men in England to be offered blood pressure checks in barbershops


Tests part of NHS drive to cut heart attacks as study finds risk for men twice as high as for women



Men are to be offered blood pressure checks in barbershops as part of an NHS drive to prevent heart attacks, as research reveals they face double the risk of women.


Having high blood pressure raises the risk of a heart attack, but many men and women remain unaware they may be affected because typically there are no symptoms.


Every year there are 100,000 NHS hospital admissions due to heart attacks – one every five minutes. The NHS has doubled the number of blood pressure checks for people aged over 40 in the last year, figures reveal, but officials have now green lit a huge expansion of the scheme in England.


The free checks will be offered to people in a wider range of locations in an effort to spot high blood pressure early and reduce the number of heart attacks.


Under the plans, patients will be able to access the potentially lifesaving checks in barbershops, churches, mosques, community centres and dominoes clubs.


Research presented in Amsterdam at the world’s largest heart conference has found the relative risk of heart attacks for men is twice as high as it is for women.


The study looking at sex-specific risks of cardiovascular events, led by the University of Aberdeen, was presented at the annual meeting of the European Society of Cardiology.


More than 20,000 people in the UK aged over 40 were tracked between 1993 and 2018. Researchers adjusted for several factors including ethnicity, deprivation, BMI, physical activity, alcohol intake and smoking status.


On average, they were followed for 22 years. Research has previously shown how men generally face a higher risk of heart-related illnesses. This new study shows the extent of the difference.


Compared with women, the relative risk for men of experiencing heart attacks and peripheral artery disease is twofold higher, the study found.


Men also have a 50% higher risk of heart failure and atrial fibrillation. The study discovered that men have a 42% higher risk of dying from cardiovascular disease. The research did not look at why.


Men are also more likely to experience a heart attack at a younger age than women.


“Men had a higher risk of incident cardiovascular disease throughout their lifetime than women, but these sex differences were most pronounced for myocardial infarction and peripheral artery disease, followed by atrial fibrillation, heart failure and cardiovascular mortality,” the study concluded.


Lead researcher Dr Tiberiu Pana, an honorary research fellow at the University of Aberdeen and a junior doctor in the NHS, said: “The advice is that men should start looking early at risk factors, like obesity, lack of exercise, smoking, alcohol consumption, and reach out to their GP to get those things addressed.


“The earlier the better. There’s no harm in minimising your cardiovascular risk.”

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, said: “This large study again highlights that men more commonly have heart attacks at a younger age than women.


“Coronary heart disease is the most common killer of men. There’s never been a better time to get physically active and replace that pub session with an extra session in the gym.”


However, both Pana and Babu-Narayan said it was important to stress that women also face significant risks of heart attacks and strokes, and should also take measures to reduce their risk.


“If we consider the effects of heart disease over a lifetime we need to remember that it costs lives for both men and women,” said Babu-Narayan.


“With 30,000 women in the UK admitted to hospital with a heart attack each year, it is vital to dismantle the dogma that heart attacks are the preserve of men. Regardless of gender, cardiovascular disease is the world’s biggest killer and there are steps everyone can take to reduce their risks.


“Eating a healthy, balanced diet, being physically active, managing your weight and attending health checks when offered can all help improve your chances of being free of cardiovascular conditions.”


The blood pressure checks expansion will see a further 2.5m performed in the community in England. The NHS estimates they will prevent about 1,350 cardiovascular events every year.


Figures show there were 150,000 community blood pressure checks in May this year, more than double the 58,000 delivered in May 2022.


David Webb, the chief pharmaceutical officer for England, said: “With the number of people living with major illnesses including heart disease and other cardiovascular conditions set to grow substantially over the coming years, it has never been more important to put in place preventive measures like easy-to-access blood pressure checks that can pick up the early signs and risks.”

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