A GLASGOW health researcher who almost died due to undiagnosed high blood pressure has called for increased testing of younger patients by GPs.

Nicola McMeekin suffered an aortic dissection at 42, a medical emergency where the inner layer of the heart’s main artery tears. 

This life-threatening condition affects approximately 4,000 people a year in the UK and only 1,200 of whom survive to be admitted to hospital.

Within hours of scans detecting the problem, she was in theatre having life-saving open-heart surgery. 

Mrs McMeekin, who had two teenage children at the time, recalled how the surgeon asked her if she wanted to know the risks of the surgery and she told him ‘No, just don’t let me die’.

High blood pressure is often related to unhealthy lifestyle habits, such as smoking, drinking too much alcohol, being overweight and not exercising enough. However, the mother of two was fit and healthy and had no symptoms.

It is thought that she had been experiencing hypertension for years which put pressure on the aorta but doctors are unclear why. Genetic tests ruled out any underlying heart problems.

“I had no issues, I was an active mother and dog owner," she said.

“The symptoms were a very sudden onset of pain down my thighs and down the top of arms and up the side of my neck into my jaw.

“When it first happened, it was so acute I couldn’t concentrate on anything other than breathing but after a few minutes it got a bit better. My first thought was, that I was having a heart attack.”

Mrs McMeekin, who was living in the village of  Alnwick, in Northumberland when it hapened, went to A&E at her local, district hospital but was transferred to the county hospital as doctors suspected it might be a heart attack.

Blood tests ruled this out but heart imaging and a CT scan showed she had suffered an aortic dissection.

“It happened so quickly, it didn’t really sink in. I had two young, teenage children so I was more concerned about getting home to them than it being something serious,” she said.

“I went straight into intensive care and I was speaking to the surgeon and he was very calm and he said do you want to know what the risks are and I said no, just don’t let me die.

“At some level I must have known it was serious. I know my blood pressure was very, very high while I was waiting for the surgery.”

Hypertension is generally defined as a reading of 140/90 or higher.

A number of conditions can cause high blood pressure in younger people including polycystic kidneys and a birth heart defect called Coartaction of the Aorta, where the main arterty is blocked from birth. 

A major study is under way at the University of Edinburgh looking at the risk of dissection in adults with a dilated aorta caused by a defective Bicuspid heart valve.

The university research assistant, whose work involves her assessing the cost effectiveness of clinical trials, said the only time her blood pressure was mentioned was when she was pregnant with one of her children. 

“They said it was high but not high enough to do anything about it,” she recalls.

Ten years on, she is well but is closely monitored and may require further corrective surgery in the future.

She now campaigns  to raise awareness about aortic dissection and the importance of blood pressure checks, at any age.

High blood pressure is usually taken seriously by medical professionals.

However, despite how vigilant doctors are in treating the condition in middle-aged and older individuals, it isn’t always the case with younger people.

However, studies have shown that the increased prevalence of traditional risk factors in the young, including obesity, diabete and renal disease, increase the risk of developing hypertension in younger adults.

“Obviously the older you are, the more likely you are to have it but it affects all ages. It’s easy to dismiss people because they have no symptoms.”