Coronavirus and High Blood Pressure
If you have high blood pressure, it’s a good idea to take extra care to protect yourself during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Early research shows that people with the condition may be more likely to:
- Get COVID-19
- Have worse symptoms
- Die from the infection
High Blood Pressure Risks
Data from China and Italy — countries hit early by the virus — show higher risk of COVID-19 infections and complications in people with high blood pressure.
In China, 25% to 50% of people who came to hospitals with coronavirus had high blood pressure or another health condition like cancer, diabetes, or lung disease. In Italy, more than 99% of people who’ve died from the virus had one of these conditions — and 76% of them had high blood pressure.
People with high blood pressure are also slightly more likely to die from coronavirus. Their risk is about 6% higher than the overall population.
What’s the Link?
A weaker immune system is one reason people with high blood pressure and other health problems are at higher risk for coronavirus. Long-term health conditions and aging weaken your immune system so it’s less able to fight off the virus. Nearly two-thirds of people over 60 have high blood pressure.
Another possibility is that the higher risk comes not from high blood pressure itself, but from certain drugs used to treat it — ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs). This is just a theory, since there’s no research yet on what impact, if any, these medications might have on COVID-19.
The theory is based on the fact that ACE inhibitors and ARBs raise levels of an enzyme called ACE2 in your body. And to infect cells, the COVID-19 virus must attach itself to ACE2.
Until more research comes out, the American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association recommend that you keep taking your high blood pressure medicine as prescribed. If you don’t, it could raise your risk for a heart attack or stroke, putting you in the hospital just as coronavirus cases are coming in.
How Coronavirus Affects People With High Blood Pressure
While pneumonia is the most common complication of the virus, it can also damage the cardiovascular system. That’s why people with high blood pressure, heart disease, and heart failure are at risk.
High blood pressure damages arteries and reduces the flow of blood to your heart. That means your heart has to work harder to pump enough blood. Over time, this extra work can weaken your heart to the point where it can’t pump as much oxygen-rich blood to your body.
That’s because early findings suggest high blood pressure could raise your risk of getting the coronavirus if you’re elderly, and it could raise your risk of experiencing severe complications from the coronavirus regardless of your age. Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension, which is defined as consistent readings of 130/80 or above.
Data from the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, shows an overall mortality rate of about 2% among patients with the virus. But the rate was 6% in patients with high blood pressure. The rate was also elevated for people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer.
Coronavirus can also damage the heart directly, which can be especially risky if your heart is already weakened by the effects of high blood pressure. The virus may cause inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis, which makes it harder for the heart to pump.
If you also have plaque buildup in your arteries, the virus may make those plaques more likely to break apart and cause a heart attack. Past studies have shown that people with heart disease who get a respiratory illness like the flu or earlier types of coronavirus are at higher risk for a heart attack.
What Should You Do?
Everyone needs to take precautions to prevent coronavirus. People with high blood pressure and other health conditions need to be extra careful.
The CDC offers this advice:
- Make sure you have enough medicine on hand to treat high blood pressure and other health conditions.
- Stock up on over-the-counter medicines to treat a fever and other symptoms if you get sick.
- Stay at home and limit contact with other people as much as you can.
- Avoid crowds and anyone who looks sick.
- Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
- Clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces like countertops and doorknobs.
A coronavirus vaccine isn’t available yet, but the American College of Cardiology recommends that you stay up to date on your other vaccines. The pneumococcal vaccine will prevent you from catching pneumonia on top of coronavirus. Also get a flu vaccine. Its symptoms are easy to confuse with coronavirus, which could make it harder for doctors to diagnose you if you do get sick.
High blood pressure is the most common type of heart disease and affects almost half of all American adults, according to the CDC. That’s about 108 million Americans living with the condition.
And because hypertension is more common as people grow older, that means many of the same people with high blood pressure already overlap with the elderly populations known to be at higher risk for contracting COVID-19.