Belfast woman says routine health check 'saved her life' after revealing dangerously high blood pressure

Justine Daly was diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure in March and is now responding well to treatment
Justine Daly was diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure in March and is now responding well to treatment -Credit:NICHS

A Belfast woman has spoken of her shock at being diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure as she urged others to get checked out.

Justine Daly was not concerned about her health and enjoyed a relatively active lifestyle before her diagnosis. She showed no signs of having high blood pressure but that all changed in an instant when she was told she needed to seek immediate medical advice.

Justine’s high blood pressure was detected after she attended a workplace health check, carried out by local health charity, Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke (NICHS).

READ MORE: NI mum urges people to check blood pressure after ‘ticking time bomb’ warning

READ MORE: NI woman has 'silent heart attack' after undetected high blood pressure

Justine said: “My employer had organised for Northern Ireland Chest Heart & Stroke to come to our workplace in Belfast to carry out health checks in March. I saw this as an opportunity to get things checked either for piece of mind or a nudge to change something.

“I had a similar check back in 2019 and although my blood pressure was elevated, it was nowhere near a critical level. I certainly didn’t expect to find out my blood pressure was off the Richter scale and that I should go to A&E immediately.

“My check was carried out by a lady called Valerie from NICHS’s Health Promotion team. She was lovely and had a very professional and caring manner. Valerie explained what the health check would involve and that the blood pressure check would be at the end. My results from the other tests were all great. I had a metabolic age of 40 and at 54 I was delighted to hear that.

“When it was time for the blood pressure check Valerie did it on my left arm and said, ‘Right. Take yourself off to the beach. You are standing on the beach. Imagine how calm you would be feeling’, and then she measured it again. Once more, she asked me to take a few moments to try and relax. She then did the measurement on my right arm, and that is when she told me I needed to go to A&E because my blood pressure was dangerously high.”

Justine recalled: “It took a moment for the news that it was that high to sink in. I hadn’t experienced anything, no symptoms or warning signs, which would have made me concerned about my blood pressure or health in general. I was expecting it to be elevated like previously but not so high I had to go to hospital. It came as a complete shock.

“Valerie could see the look of horror on my face and must have thought another course of action might be worth trying. She said that I should phone my GP surgery and ask their advice. If they felt I didn’t necessarily need to go straight to A&E and would arrange an urgent appointment with my doctor, then she would be happy with that advice.

“Valerie waited with me until I got a call back from my doctor, which was very reassuring and kind. My surgery prioritised me, getting an appointment for the following morning and Valerie advised me to go home and do nothing but rest, which I did. She was able to make me understand this was extremely important, but without petrifying me.”

“I was obviously feeling quite anxious as being told that you need to go to A&E makes you realise just how serious the situation is. Valerie was so calm and considerate however and that really helped. I saw my doctor the next day and he was fantastic,” she added.

“He checked me over, and given my previous history of elevated blood pressure, he prescribed medication right away. He explained that for me, it was not a case of trying lifestyle changes to make a difference to my blood pressure such as losing weight or reducing my salt intake.

“The nurse took my bloods to get a baseline and I had to go back two weeks later for a review and an ECG. The doctor was happy with everything, so I was advised to keep taking my medication as prescribed and go back in a month for a further check-up.”

Justine enjoyed a relatively active lifestyle before her diagnosis and showed no signs of having high blood pressure
Justine enjoyed a relatively active lifestyle before her diagnosis and showed no signs of having high blood pressure -Credit:NICHS

Justine is sharing her story on World Hypertension Day this Friday in support of NICHS's current blood pressure awareness campaign. The charity is concerned about the number of people living with undetected high blood pressure in Northern Ireland and the fact one in two heart attacks and strokes are linked to the condition.

Justine is speaking out about her experience as she wants to encourage others to get their blood pressure checked.

Reflecting on her diagnosis, she said: “At first, I thought, ‘it might not really be that serious because I can't feel anything, I feel fine’, but that's the thing many people don't realise, you don’t necessarily have symptoms when your blood pressure is through the roof. I had experienced absolutely no signs that would have made me concerned about my blood pressure.

“I have been wearing a fitness tracker watch for years and it measures heart rate, but I didn’t realise quite how different that is to monitoring your blood pressure. That is something I would love people to understand- just because your heart rate and other vitals are ok, your blood pressure might not be.

“That is why it is so important to check it. If you don’t and it is high, it could then sadly be too late. Finding out about my high blood pressure really could have saved my life as I was able to seek medical help.

“I also think people don’t realise that these things can happen at an early age, you do not have to be in your 70s or 80s. I am 54 and was leading a normal, healthy, relatively active life but my high blood pressure could have hit me like a brick. I could have had a heart attack or stroke which would be lifechanging. Thinking about how different things could have been has had a big impact on me mentally.

“It was also very hard to hear that I was on medication for life, I could never stop taking it. That made me feel a bit nervous and apprehensive at first but after I had time to reflect, I thought, if a medication can improve my health and reduce my risk of a heart attack or stroke that’s a good thing, not a negative. That is another message I would stress to people- if you are prescribed blood pressure medication, please take it and do not put yourself at any unnecessary risk.”

Justine enjoying a slower pace at the beach
Justine enjoying a slower pace at the beach -Credit:NICHS

Thankfully, Justine is responding to her treatment plan and says she is looking to the future: “I am still at a very early stage in my journey, but I am trying to get back to normal as much as possible. For the first week or two after I was diagnosed, I was exhausted. I don't know whether it was down to starting the medication, or the mental impact of everything, or a combination of the two.

“I really had to slow down. I am usually a 100 miles an hour type of person but my body was definitely telling me to take it easier. I am improving however and feeling better as time goes on. I am walking a lot and enjoying Tai Chi and hope that with time I can get back to doing more intensive exercise like hiking in the Mournes, but that is something I will discuss with my doctor first.”

Justine added: “Finding out about my high blood pressure has had a huge impact on me but the fact is, it could well have saved my life. If my employer hadn’t organised the health checks with NICHS who knows what might have happened.

“I would have been none-the-wiser as to the risk I was at, and I want to thank Valerie and the charity. I feel lucky to be able to share my story and would encourage everyone to check their blood pressure, no matter what their age, lifestyle, whether they feel fine etc. Do not put it off, because you could be too late.”

Fidelma Carter, Head of Public Health at NICHS, said Justine's story shows just how dangerous undetected and untreated high blood pressure can be: “Over 280,000 people, or around one in five of the adult population in Northern Ireland, are living with high blood pressure but there is a significant number of people, around 120,000, who have high blood pressure and do not realise it.”

She added: “Shockingly, this means at least a quarter of the adult population here live with high blood pressure. This gives us great cause for concern due to the fact one in two heart attacks and strokes are linked to the condition and it is something our current blood pressure awareness campaign aims to change.

“Undetected high blood pressure is often known as ‘The Silent Killer’ due to the fact it rarely causes any physical symptoms or warning signs and is often only discovered after someone suffers a stroke or heart attack. The only way to know what your blood pressure is, and if it is high, is to have it measured and that is what we are urging the public to do this World Hypertension Day, and beyond.”

She added: “As Justine highlighted, many people associate high blood pressure with older people, but high blood pressure can affect anyone, at any age. It is important people are not complacent about their health just because they are in a younger age bracket.

“A blood pressure check is simple and only takes a few minutes, but it really could help save your life. There are a number of ways you can get your blood pressure checked. You can make an appointment with your GP or visit your local pharmacy which may operate a blood pressure monitoring service. You could also buy a blood pressure machine for home monitoring.”

For further information and support about blood pressure, visit

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