COVID-19 Linked with High Blood Pressure

The last hurrah of summer has nearly arrived, and amid a flurry of back-to-school prep, late-season harvests, and August storms, there is an unmistakable hint of autumn in the early morning air.  As our thoughts turn to pumpkin spice and comfort baking, older adults are also wise to consider annual vaccines that offer protection during cold and flu season.  When COVID-19 boosters become available, seniors should talk with their healthcare providers. Not only can COVID lead to serious illness in vulnerable populations, but a new study has found people infected with the virus have nearly twice the risk of developing high blood pressure compared with those who contracted the flu. 

According to a recent Everyday Health report, people who contracted COVID-19 have a significantly higher likelihood of developing hypertension within six months of infection.  The risk is especially high for people with a preexisting heart condition, and for those who are Black, male, or older than age 40.  

The study, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, presents an alarming finding given the high number of people who have been affected by COVID-19.  The increased risk of developing high blood pressure places an enormous burden on already strained healthcare systems.  

Researchers found that 21 percent of people hospitalized with COVID-19 developed high blood pressure compared with 16 percent of those hospitalized with influenza.  Among those who contracted COVID-19, but were not hospitalized, 11 percent developed hypertension compared with 4 percent who had the flu and were not hospitalized.  Underlying chronic health conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, or kidney disease increase the risk further.   People treated with vasopressors to raise blood pressure, or steroids were also more commonly diagnosed with high blood pressure following COVID-19 infection. 

The study only included COVID patients who sought care through healthcare systems – who might have been more likely to have severe COVID-19 infection.  Researchers also acknowledge that some study participants may have already had undiagnosed high blood pressure.  Vaccine status can also affect the severity of COVID-19 illness, and the databases used for the study may not have included vaccines given outside of the healthcare systems used for the research. 

The takeaway?  COVID-19 infection, along with lifestyle factors, may help to explain the recent spike in high blood pressure diagnoses among American adults during the pandemic.  Hypertension can cause damage to organs including the heart, brain, kidneys and eyes.  Regular screening and early diagnosis and treatment can help reduce the risk of developing serious health outcomes.