High blood pressure’s connection to COVID-19

People with high blood pressure may be at greater risk of complications.

When cases of COVID-19 began to surge around the world, experts realized the virus was particularly dangerous for people with heart disease and related conditions, especially high blood pressure. Nearly half of all adults in the U.S. — 103 million people — have high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.

More concerning is that only 1 in 4 adults have their blood pressure under control. Blood pressure that’s not well-managed can lead to serious complications, such as heart attack and stroke. As COVID-19 outbreaks continued, a new concern emerged. People with high blood pressure may be at greater risk of more serious complications from the coronavirus, including death.

Possible link between blood pressure regulation and COVID-19

“Early reports from areas of the world most affected by COVID-19 showed higher morbidity and mortality rates in patients with conditions like hypertension, coronary artery disease, diabetes and obesity,” says Dr. Steven Rough, a cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. “What was found is COVID infects the cells that help regulate blood pressure, suggesting a possible link between hypertension and severe COVID infection. More studies are needed to determine if there is, in fact, a cause and effect.”

While the link between hypertension and serious complications isn’t entirely clear yet, what is clear is keeping blood pressure under control is extremely important.

COVID-19’s other dangerous implication is that it has kept many patients away from local hospitals and emergency rooms due to fears about getting the coronavirus. Hospitals across the country are reporting fewer visits for urgent medical needs, which some experts believe isn’t because patients are having fewer of them, but rather they’re avoiding or delaying seeking treatment.

In San Diego County, there have been 20 to 40 fewer heart attacks reported each month since the COVID-19 pandemic began, as well as a 70% decrease in calls to the Emergency Medical Services (EMS) system. With high blood pressure being a risk factor for serious conditions like heart attack, stroke and heart failure, it’s important that patients do all they can to keep it under control despite the pandemic.

Blood pressure measurement includes two numbers: systolic (top number) and diastolic (bottom number). People with a systolic above 130 or a diastolic above 80 — a reading of higher than 130/80 mmHg — are considered to have hypertension. Extreme high blood pressure, a reading of 180/120 mmHg or higher, should seek immediate medical attention. Anyone with a reading of 180/120 mmHg or higher who is also experiencing chest pain, shortness of breath, or changes in vision or speech should call 911.

“Having high blood pressure can lead to serious complications like heart attack, stroke, heart failure and aneurysm formation,” says Dr. Rough. “There is a lot that can be done for prevention, though. The best thing I can tell my patients with high blood pressure to do throughout this pandemic is to eat as healthy as possible, make time for exercise, stay current with appointments with your doctor, and don’t ever delay going to the emergency room for a serious medical need. We’ve already taken a lot of steps, and continue, to make the ER and hospital safe for patients to come in.”

Adapted from Sharp Health News

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