High blood pressure rose even more early in the pandemic, study finds

High blood pressure rose even more early in the pandemic, study finds

High blood pressure rose even more early in the pandemic, study finds


People in the US with high blood pressure increased during the first eight months of the Covid-19 pandemic, a new study says.

When someone has high blood pressure, the force of their blood pushes against the walls of their blood vessels, making their heart less efficient. Both the blood vessels and the heart have to work harder. Without treatment, high blood pressure will eventually damage the arteries, increasing the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Heart disease is the number 1 killer in the worldand well-controlled blood pressure is leading modifiable risk factor, according to researchers in a new study, published on Tuesday in the journal Hypertension.

The US National Institutes of Health, which helped fund the study, said it was one of the most comprehensive looks at blood pressure trends since the start of the pandemic.

Researchers reviewed the records of more than 137,000 adults with high blood pressure and compared their levels from August 2018 to January 2020 with their levels from April 2020 to January 2021. The records came from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, University Columbia Irving Medical Center in New York and Ochsner Health in New Orleans. The participants were on average 66 years old. More than half were women, and 30% were black.

Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (abbreviated mmHg). The measurement has a top number, or the systolic reading, and a bottom number, the diastolic reading.

Systolic pressure measures the force of blood as it pumps from the heart into the arteries, and diastolic pressure is the pressure that builds up while the heart is resting between beats. High blood pressure is defined as systolic pressure above 140 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure above 90 mmHg.

In the study, patients’ systolic readings increased by an average of 1.79 mmHg, and their diastolic readings increased by an average of 1.30 mmHg.

“Although these increases appear small, studies show that an increase in blood pressure of just 2 mmHg can increase the risk of major cardiovascular events by as much as 5%,” the NIH said in news release.

The overall increase was “smaller than expected,” said study author Dr. Hiroshi Gotanda, an assistant professor in the department of general internal medicine at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

Gotanda believes that the spread of telemedicine during the pandemic could have helped. Other studies found that telemedicine is an effective alternative to an in-person doctor’s visit for controlling high blood pressure.

Because high blood pressure doesn’t always cause symptoms, people who have it are encouraged to monitor their blood pressure at home. If they have a doctor’s appointment, they may pay more attention to follow-up so they have something to report. And during the examination, doctors may change their prescription if their blood pressure is consistently high.

In the first three months of the pandemic, the study found, people did not check their blood pressure at home as much as they did. Measurements fell by as much as 90% compared to the time before the pandemic. The number of controls increased over time, but even at the end of the study period, measurements were still below pre-pandemic levels.

The study had some limitations, including that they only measured people who had access to health care. Those without health care or insurance may have had a different result.

“The impact of the pandemic on their blood pressure could have been much greater,” Gotanda said.

The study doesn’t suggest why blood pressure levels rose, and it’s hard to say on an individual basis, Gotanda said. But this may involve changes in routines related to the pandemic.

dr. Eduardo Sanchez, chief medical officer for prevention at the American Heart Association, offered some other reasons: “Clinical care visits dropped dramatically in the early months of the pandemic—delayed care seeking by patients and reduced access by some clinical care providers. Patients’ behavior was driven by their interpretation of messages about COVID prevention and their fear of COVID. Initially, job loss may have contributed to reduced care and prescription failure. Visits are increasing and blood pressure control is increasing but lagging behind.”

Additionally, studies show that people slept less – and less well – during the pandemic. While gyms are closed and people are increasingly staying at home, they exercised lesshad less healthy diet and drank more alcohol.

Gotanda said the scientists hope to next look at what effect even this small increase in blood pressure will have on a patient’s overall health. They also want to know which patients may have had difficulty accessing telemedicine.

Telemedicine could have a wide impact. Nearly half of adults in the United States have high blood pressure, according to the data US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and about half of them have what doctors consider uncontrolled high blood pressure. That’s about 37 million adults – and with the ongoing obesity epidemic, the number is likely to rise.

High blood pressure can be genetic, but there are things you can do to keep it under control. Keeping a close eye on your numbers is the first step American Heart Association recommends. People who know their numbers can make changes if they need to.

Medicines can treat high blood pressure, and lifestyle changes may help, such as stopping smoking or cigarettes, managing stress, maintaining a healthy weight and diet heart healthy diet.

A heart-healthy diet is high in vegetables, whole grains and low-fat dairy, and low in salt, saturated fat, red meat and sweets. It’s also one that keeps alcohol to a minimum. The American Heart Association recommends no more than two drinks a day for men and one for women.


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