Around a third of people with high blood pressure in France are unaware they have the condition.
That is the warning from French public health agency Santé publique France (SPF) to mark World Hypertension Day on Wednesday (May 17).
It says up to 17 million people in France have high blood pressure but more than six million remain undiagnosed.
High blood pressure is called hypertension artérielle (HTA) in France.
SPF said the condition is the “most common chronic illness in France” and “one of the main causes of cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks, kidney problems, and cognitive issues like dementia”.
It said that in 2019, HTA was “the leading mortality risk factor, ahead of tobacco”, and the “second-most common cause of years lost to poor health”.
SPF said despite blood pressure checks being covered by the health system in France, the level of testing and checks have not increased since 2006.
Around 1.6 million people start treatment for the illness each year. Yet, SPF said the Covid crisis had a negative impact on the number of people seeking and starting treatment for the condition, reducing the percentage of people seeking help by 11%.
This is “probably linked to a decrease in the population's use of healthcare during this period and therefore a decrease in screening”, it said.
Similarly, it added that women were less likely than men to seek or start treatment and that levels in women had not yet returned to pre-pandemic rates. In 2020, women were 16% less likely to start treatment than before the pandemic, SPF found, with women aged 75 to 84 up to 30% less likely.
This is in contrast to just a 5% drop in men seeking treatment, which has now returned to pre-pandemic levels.
SPF called for “health policies in favour of hypertension prevention” and said that “screening and management” of the condition “must be implemented rapidly to allow a favourable evolution of the epidemiological indicators of the disease.”
It said that France lagged “some other countries” in this respect.
How to avoid high blood pressure
SPF offered some tips to help people avoid the condition.
Have a blood pressure test regularly, and at least once a year - especially if you are over 40
Start living a healthy lifestyle as soon as possible (the younger the better)
Eat a diet rich in fruit and vegetables
Limit your consumption of salt and alcohol
Practise regular physical exercise
Try to keep your weight down as higher body weight is associated with higher blood pressure
You are advised to get your blood pressure tested at a GP surgery. Some pharmacies may also offer the service. You can also buy blood pressure monitors for at-home use if you feel that you suffer from anxiety or high stress in a medical environment.
Symptoms of high blood pressure
The symptoms of high blood pressure can include:
Blurred vision or spots in front of your vision
Shortness of breath
Headaches, especially in the morning
Anxiety or a feeling of nervousness
However, France’s public health insurance fund, the Assurance maladie, states that “in most cases, high blood pressure is silent and detected during a medical examination or a consultation for another disease”.
How to manage high blood pressure
For people who already have hypertension, SPF recommended:
Adopt healthy dietary habits to help control your blood pressure
Seek pharmacological or interventional treatments, which can also be prescribed to bring blood pressure below 140/90mmHg.
Controlling your blood pressure helps to limit the risk of complications, improves quality of life, and extends life overall, SPF said.