'I never really thought about blood pressure'

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"In 2006, aged 36, I visited my doctor at Port St Mary, a village to the south on the Isle of Man, for a check up and as part of the appointment he took my blood pressure and it was then he told me it was too high, 160/90, so he prescribed beta-blockers medication that reduces your blood pressure by slowing down your heart rate.

I had never really thought about blood pressure before to be honest. It seemed like something that happened to the older generation or those people who were overweight or unhealthy and I didn’t feel I was either of these.

I took the medication for a few days but they affected my behaviour. I didn't want to do anything or talk to anyone. I felt like a zombie. I put the pills back into the bathroom cabinet and there they remained. I mean, it was only high blood pressure. That's no big deal, is it? Besides, the idea of taking pills for the rest of my life didn't really appeal. After all, that's what old people do.

Three years later, in May 2009, I was planning a bicycle ride from my parent's home on the Isle of Man to the south coast of Spain. However, I'd been feeling increasingly nauseous for a couple of months. Then, two days before I was due to set off, my vision went blurry. I decided to cancel the ride, which turned out to be a wise move. Over the next week the nausea increased and then the vomiting began. My condition deteriorated. Whenever I moved I would be violently sick. It was time to stop thinking this bug was just going to go away. It was a Sunday, the doctor's surgery was closed and so I went to A&E at Noble's Hospital. The doctor on duty took my blood pressure. As she looked at the monitor the look on her face went from confusion to horror.

“You're staying in!” she said. My blood pressure was 210/120, a value that goes off the scale of those charts that hang from the bottom of hospital beds. I was placed in intensive care. Apparently I'd had three brain haemorrhages brought on by very high blood pressure. Also as a result of long term hypertension my kidneys now only functioned at 60%. I'd been an idiot.

Two weeks later I was released from hospital with a bag containing five types of blood pressure pill – beta-blockers, ACE inhibitors, angiotensin receptor blockers, calcium-channel blockers and diuretics – the full set! The doctors didn't know what caused my high blood pressure. They still don't.

In the early days I had to be careful. If I stood up too quickly my blood pressure plummeted and I could feel I was about to pass out. I usually had enough time to grab hold of something. In hospital one day I hadn't been so lucky. I'd got up to get a magazine and woke up thirty seconds later with a bleeding face and a corner of the bedside cabinet missing.

I recuperated over the summer and in September, against the wishes of my girlfriend and parents, I set off on the bike ride I'd planned. I wanted to prove to myself this condition didn't have to affect my life negatively. Thirty-two days after setting off, my bike trundled on to a beach on the Costa del Sol. I'd cycled 1,600 miles and it had been amazing.

Inspired by this, I planned a more serious adventure. Between 2011 and 2013, I cycled from the Isle of Man to the Isle of Man. That doesn't sound like much but in the meantime I rode across every country in Europe, visiting 52 capital cities, from Amsterdam to Zagreb, a total of 22,000 miles, at the same time as studying for a couple of degrees and raising money for the charity, Blood Pressure UK, the UK's leading blood pressure charity dedicated to lowering the nation's blood pressure.

The ride was the best idea I'd ever had but it didn't all go according to plan. I'd set off several kilos overweight. As the days went on I got fitter and slimmer. As a result, my blood pressure pills – I set off with over a thousand in my panniers – became more effective. Taking a lunch break on a bridge in rural France, I stood up too quickly and everything suddenly went foggy. Fortunately I'd fallen towards the bridge's railings rather than into the road and I regained consciousness leaning at a strange angle. It was a narrow escape. I was more careful about my movements from then on. Even with my blood pressure problems I survived the trip despite the best efforts of a particularly unobservant driver in Ukraine who was millimetres from wiping me out. I've even used the experience to write a book about my ride – “No Place Like Home, Thank God” – including my ordeal with hypertension.

Nowadays, with the help of medication, my blood pressure is back to a healthy level and my kidneys have improved but they will never be 100%. Don't be complacent about your blood pressure, and if you're told yours is too high then do something about it. I was very lucky. You might not be".

Steven Primrose-Smith, 44, from the Isle of Man




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