High Blood Pressure & COVID-19: What to Know About Your RiskAug. 13, 2020 - Katie McCallum
By now, you've likely learned that some underlying health conditions can make a person more likely to get seriously ill from COVID-19 — with high blood pressure sometimes making the list, but sometimes not.
So, if you have high blood pressure, how worried do you need to be?
"The coronavirus that causes COVID-19 is still very new to us, and we're constantly learning more and more about how this virus affects the body and who is most at risk for severe illness," says Dr. Bindu Chebrolu, cardiologist at Houston Methodist. "One group of people who may be at higher risk are those with high blood pressure, particularly those who don't have their high blood pressure under control."
High blood pressure, also called hypertension, is incredibly common. It affects millions of adults in the U.S., many of whom don't even know they have it. Long-term, high blood pressure can lead to a range of chronic health conditions, including heart disease and stroke.
Right now, having high blood pressure, especially if it's uncontrolled, may actually increase your risk of getting seriously ill with COVID-19.
Here are four things Dr. Chebrolu wants you to know about high blood pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure increases your risk
Managing high blood pressure is always important, but, right now, it's probably more important for your immediate health than ever before.
"We don't yet fully understand why untreated high blood pressure puts a person at higher risk for more severe COVID-19 symptoms or complications," says Dr. Chebrolu. "However, since it may be the difference between being hospitalized and being able to self-treat your symptoms at home, it's important to be sure your high blood pressure is being effectively managed."
Managing high blood pressure may look different from person to person, but it generally includes:
- Regularly measuring and tracking your blood pressure
- Taking any blood pressure medications your doctor has prescribed
- Staying committed to healthy lifestyle choices
"If your blood pressure numbers are consistently high, schedule a visit with your doctor," recommends Dr. Chebrolu. "Your doctor can help you understand the lifestyle changes needed to help manage your blood pressure, as well as whether or not you need to take medications to lower your blood pressure."
Your blood pressure medications are safe
At the start of the pandemic, there were concerns that two common classes of blood pressure medications, ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin receptor II blockers), may increase a person's risk of developing a more severe case of COVID-19.
"The initial concern was that these drugs cause a person to produce higher amounts of ACE2, the molecule the virus uses to gain entry into and survive in the body," Dr. Chebrolu explains. "This, in turn, could result in a person becoming more seriously ill."
However, the validity of these initial concerns hasn't quite panned out.
"Data from peer-reviewed research studies are actually showing us that ACE inhibitors and ARBs don't increase a person's risk of a more severe illness. In fact, these medications may actually be associated with lower risk, likely since these medications help lower high blood pressure," Dr. Chebrolu says.
This means that people with high blood pressure should continue to take their medications as prescribed by their doctor.
Make sure you are taking steps to manage your blood pressure
"Even if you're taking medication to help lower your blood pressure, maintaining a healthy lifestyle is a critical piece of managing your blood pressure," says Dr. Chebrolu.
It can be hard to keep up with healthy habits during a stressful event like a pandemic, but it's important to remain committed to the lifestyle behaviors that help keep your blood pressure in a healthy range, including:
- Eating healthy. Make sure your meals are full of fruits and vegetables, and remember to limit your salt intake. If you need some help staying on track, consider the DASH eating plan, which is proven to help people lower their blood pressure.
- Watching your weight. Being overweight can impact your health, so it's important to make sure you know your BMI and whether it's in a healthy or unhealthy range. In addition, don't let staying at home more than usual turn into snacking more than usual.
- Getting active. Social distancing may change what your workouts look like, but you'll still want to aim for at least two hours of physical activity every week. Whether it's a brisk walk or a morning jog or even a quick yoga session, the best exercise is anything you know you will commit to doing on a regular basis.
- Limiting alcohol. Because alcohol can raise your blood pressure, men should limit consumption to two drinks per day and women should limit consumption to one drink per day.
- Quitting smoking. It's hard, but stopping smoking can help lower your blood pressure. If you don't already smoke, don't start.
- Reviewing over-the-counter medications. Common pain medications called NSAIDs can increase your blood pressure. People with heart concerns should limit or avoid NSAIDS, especially if their blood pressure is uncontrolled. Make sure to review all medications with your doctor prior to use.
- Reducing stress. Don't forget to unplug, unwind and relax.
Having a support system can make a difference
When times get stressful, tapping into a support network may be just what you need to stay on track with your heart health.
If you're in need of extra motivation or just want to connect with someone with a health concern similar to you, consider joining an online support network.
In addition, virtual telemedicine platforms have provided a new array of opportunity for facilitating quick and frequent visits with your health care provider, which can help you keep up with and reinforce the effective strategies that can help control your blood pressure.
You may also find these additional resources helpful:
- Living With Blood Pressure (A guide from the American College of Cardiology)
- iBP Blood Pressure app (available in the App Store or Google Play)
- Blood Pressure Monitor app (available in the App Store)
- Smart Blood Pressure app (available in the App Store or Google Play)
You can have high blood pressure without knowing it
The tricky thing about high blood pressure is that it doesn't cause obvious signs and symptoms. It's why the condition is often called "the silent killer."
Don't assume that just because you're young and "feel healthy" that your blood pressure is normal. High blood pressure is becoming increasingly common in young adults.
The first step to protecting your health is to measure your blood pressure and know what your blood pressure numbers mean for your health.
Your health care team will measure your blood pressure at any medical checkup or appointment you may have, but you can also measure your blood pressure yourself at kiosks found at drugstores or at home using your own blood pressure monitor.
You may also find it helpful to check your cardiovascular risk status so you can keep tabs on your heart health.
- Find out how our cardiologists can help you manage your high blood pressure
- Find a primary care doctor who can help you measure your blood pressure and understand if it's higher than normal
Concerned you may have COVID-19?
- If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.