Aug. 21, 2023 – Infection with COVID-19 may increase a person’s risk of developing high blood pressure, according to a new study.
High blood pressure already impacts about half of U.S. adults and is a significant risk factor for potentially deadly health problems like heart disease or having a stroke. The researchers expressed concern about the sheer number of people who newly developed the condition, which over time can severely damage a person’s arteries, heart, and other parts of the body.
Among people in the study who had COVID but didn’t have a history of high blood pressure:
- One in five who had been hospitalized with COVID developed high blood pressure within 6 months.
- One in 10 who had COVID but were not hospitalized developed high blood pressure within 6 months.
The study appeared Monday in Hypertension, a journal published by the American Heart Association. The researchers analyzed data for more than 45,000 people who had COVID from March 2020 to August 2022. The people did not have a history of high blood pressure, which is also sometimes called hypertension. All of the people were treated at the Montefiore Health System in the Bronx, NY, and had returned to the hospital system for any medical reason within an average of 6 months.
Hypertension is defined as “having top and bottom numbers greater than or equal to 130/80 mm Hg,” an American Heart Association news release stated.
In an analysis to evaluate the impact of COVID, the researchers compared the likelihood of new high blood pressure in people who had the flu to the people who had COVID. The hospitalized COVID patients were more than twice as likely to get high blood pressure, compared to hospitalized flu patients. People who had COVID but weren’t hospitalized were 1.5 times more likely to get high blood pressure, compared to non-hospitalized flu patients.
People at greatest risk were age 40 or older, men, or had conditions like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery disease, or chronic kidney disease.
The authors noted that the people in the study mostly lived in a low socioeconomic area, which can be a risk factor for high blood pressure. Aspects of the pandemic other than the virus itself could have impacted high blood pressure risk, too, like isolation, low activity levels, poor diet, and psychological stress. The researchers said further study is needed to overcome limitations of their research, particularly that it only included people who interacted with the health care system and that they didn’t know if some people already had high blood pressure that was just undiagnosed.
“Given the sheer number of people affected by COVID-19 compared to influenza, these statistics are alarming and suggest that many more patients will likely develop high blood pressure in the future, which may present a major public health burden,” researcher Tim Q. Duong, PhD, a professor of radiology at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System, said in a statement. “These findings should heighten awareness to screen at-risk patients for hypertension after COVID-19 illness to enable earlier identification and treatment for hypertension-related complications, such as cardiovascular and kidney disease.”