Phamacists have long had a tradition of providing help and advice to people looking for relief from minor illnesses and injuries.

But in the past few years, their role has expanded rapidly.

Instead of simply doling out pills, pharmacists now offer a range of services that can help educate people about their well-being.

This includes stressing the importance of a healthy heart and one of the innovations now being brought in is a machine that can give people an "MOT check".

Matthew Bridgman, from the Vantage Health Watch Bridgman Pharmacy in Brighton, has an interactive health centre unit which can accurately measure a person's blood pressure, weight, heart rate, bodymass index and body fat.

One in five of the UK population are estimated to have high blood pressure but the vast majority of people, 80 per cent, are unaware of this.

Of the 20 per cent of people who receive treatment, only a fifth have their blood pressure controlled satisfactorily.

The interactive health centre has a large touchscreen with a display to guide customers through the health check procedures.

A printout is available so results can be monitored accurately over a period of time. Mr Bridgman, or one of the other trained pharmacists, will be on hand to help answer any questions patients may have during or after the health checks.

He said: "As you would assume, we work according to medical protocol and refer people with consistently high or low blood pressure to their GP for consultation.

"We are a long established pharmacy in this area but like to keep ahead of the times. We are now offering blood pressure monitoring services to a wide group of patients, including those with a family history of heart disease, the elderly and people on blood pressure medication.

"With these checks, patients don't waste time in waiting rooms which can often cause frustration and may lead to higher blood pressure readings.

"Patients also tend to be more relaxed and reassured in a pharmacy rather than a doctor's surgery.

"The most vulnerable group of people we need to educate is men, particularly the middle-aged and elderly who are not usually among the typical groups visiting pharmacies. The challenge for us in the medium-to-long term is to reach more people in these high-risk groups.

"One way forward is to educate people about the benefits of watching their own health."

The pharmacy works closlely with Brighton and Hove City Primary Care Trust to see how it can reach a broader audience.

"We work closely with our Primary Care Trust to see how we can reach a wider audience. As tackling hypertension (high blood pressure) is such an important issue, pharmacists have an increasingly important role in providing convenient blood pressure monitoring services, which over time will benefit the health of the nation."

Coronary heart disease (CHD) is largely preventable, thanks to healthy lifestyles and effective management of high blood pressure and cholesterol.

High blood pressure rarely makes people feel ill. In a very small number of people it can cause headaches but only if the blood pressure is very high.

Problems with sight, breathlessness and nosebleeds can sometimes be a sign of hypertension but the only way of knowing if you have high blood pressure is to have it measured.

People with high blood pressure run a higher risk of having a stroke or a heart attack. If left untreated for a long time, high blood pressure can lead to kidney failure and even damage your sight.

It can also cause the heart to become abnormally large and less efficient, which can lead to heart failure.

Blood pressure means the pressure of the blood in your arteries - the tubes that take the blood away from your heart to the rest of your body.

A certain amount of pressure is needed to keep the blood flowing.

High blood pressure happens if the walls of the larger arteries lose their natural elasticity and become rigid and the smaller vessels constrict.

The British Heart Foundation says despite recent improvements, CHD remains the single most common cause of death in both men and women in the UK.

The national death rate from CHD is still among the highest in the Western world.