I Was Lucky Not to Have a Stroke

Maura was lucky not to have a stroke or heart attack due to high blood pressure, and says “It’s important to manage stress and learn to say no.”

Maura Canning (44) from East Galway has to manage her high blood pressure, “You could be a walking timebomb and you wouldn’t know it. That was me for at least two months and I didn’t know it.”

As National Chair of the Irish Farmer’s Association’s Family & Social Affairs Committee, Maura juggles her voluntary role with farming and family.

One of her remits includes mental health, but it was her own health that was compromised in October 2012.

Blood pressure checked

At that year’s Women in Agriculture conference, Maura decided to have her blood pressure taken by the Irish Heart Foundation, who had an information stand at the conference.

The nurse said to me: ‘Your blood pressure is very high’ and asked when it was last checked. She said: ‘When you go home you need to go and see your doctor.’

Lucky not to get a stroke, Maura visited her doctor and pharmacy.

“When I think back, I was lucky I didn’t get a stroke, even that particular evening. I had no headaches, no side effects, there wasn’t a bother on me.”

She visited her doctor who requested a 24-hour blood pressure monitor through her local hospital. As there was a waiting list, he suggested she monitor her blood pressure at home. So she bought a blood pressure measuring unit in her local pharmacy.

The following week, she came home, checked her blood pressure with the monitor and saw that it was increasing. She went immediately to her local hospital.

“The minute I arrived, I was told: ‘You’ll be going no place,’ because it was really high – something like 220 over 118,” she explains.

Stress the likely cause

With no family history, consultants explained her blood pressure was most likely stress-related. Maura spent a week in hospital, undergoing a number of tests before being released and put on medication, which she still takes.

“I looked the picture of fitness because I’m thin, I’ve no weight on. I’d high blood pressure and I also had high cholesterol which I no longer have,” she explains. Maura’s cholesterol is back to a healthy level after making some changes in her diet, such as switching to low-fat milk and avoiding long periods of fasting without food.

Her other priorities had to change too

Maura had to assess and improve her time management. “When I left hospital, my 14-year-old daughter said to me: ‘You have to learn to say no,’ and she’s right. When I came out I was very, very tired for about six weeks. My body had to adjust to the fact that it was doing nothing, I had to build myself up again.”

Looking back at the signs

She experienced no major side-effects, but looking back Maura says she was tired at irregular times, but could not sleep at night.

“Before the hospital stay, when I was tired I was getting 20-30 minutes in bed, whatever I could get during the day, which at my age you shouldn’t be doing, and then I was unable to sleep at night.”

Back at work but learning to relax

Maura is back working and fully recovered. She is still on a number of committees, but now understands the importance of relaxing, switching off the phone before bedtime and reading magazines and newspapers.

Get checked with your GP

Her advice is to get checked with your GP if you’re at all concerned. Fortunately she was lucky and it was due to her fitness levels.

“I could have had a heart attack or stroke. The reason I didn’t, in part, was because my fitness levels were high and that’s down to dancing!”

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