The Stroke Foundation’s Chief Executive Officer Sharon McGowan has shared her story to raise awareness for World Hypertension Day on Friday 17 May. Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure and is the key risk factor for a stroke.

McGowan – along with many others – was under the belief she was invincible in her 20s. She was a social smoker and drinker, never exercised and regularly indulged in rich creamy meals enjoying her fun and busy life without giving her health a second thought. However her family history of heart disease, stroke and congenital heart defects caught up to her when she was 31 years of age and unexpectedly collapsed. Following the accident, tests revealed that she was suffering from a heart murmur and a very slow heart rate.

Due to this health scare, McGowan adopted a healthy lifestyle, she quit smoking, engaged in regular exercise, switched from diet drinks to water and incorporated wholegrains and plenty of vegetables into her diet. As a result of the accident she was also unable to drive for 12 months, so she instead opted for public transport and a lot more walking. Enjoying her new stamina and clear mind she decided to take on further study and in 2016  landed her dream role as Chief Executive Officer at the Stroke Foundation, a key health charity in Australia.

She was preparing to launch Australia’s Biggest Blood Pressure Check Campaign, in which she had to have her own blood pressure checked on television. Out of curiosity, she decided to check her blood pressure before they went live as she had not done so in a while, and was astonished to learn that it was 160/90, well above the healthy rate of 140/90. She came to the conclusion that it must have just been pre-interview nerves however followed up with a trip to the doctor and found that she was in fact suffering from high blood pressure. “Talk about a wake-up call! I was diagnosed with the very condition I was raising awareness of publicly. I myself had high blood pressure and was at serious risk of stroke with no idea!” said McGowan. “Although I looked fit on the outside, my story demonstrates that none of us is immune to the risk. In my case, my genetics pre-disposed me to high blood pressure,” said McGowan. “There is nothing you can do to change your family history, but knowing your numbers and making positive lifestyle changes to keep blood pressure within a normal range will give you the best chance of living a long and healthy life.

“I am incredibly grateful for the day I learned I had high blood pressure because it meant I could act to improve it. I am now on medication, I check it regularly and it is within normal limits. I have since run a half marathon to raise awareness of stroke and I feel great.” said McGowan. “I encourage you to have your blood pressure checked with your doctor, a pharmacist or on a digital health check machine. No matter how old you are or seemingly fit you may be, it only takes a few minutes and it could save your life.”

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