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August 28, 2023

COVID-19 may trigger high blood pressure, study finds

Researchers say hypertension cases caused by the coronavirus may become a 'major public health burden'

People who have had COVID-19 are more likely to develop high blood pressure than those who have had influenza, new research shows. 

The study, published by the American Heart Association, found that 21% of people hospitalized with COVID-19 developed high blood pressure within 6 months of infection. By contrast, 16% of hospitalized flu patients later were diagnosed with hypertension.

The link held true among people whose illnesses did not require hospitalization, too. About 11% of non-hospitalized COVID-19 patients developed high blood pressure; only 4% of those with influenza did.

The study included more 45,398 people with COVID-19 and another 13,864 who had the flu. None of them had a history of high blood pressure.

Researchers found some COVID-19 patients had an Reelevated risk of high blood pressure: men, Black adults, people over 40 and those with preexisting conditions like chronic kidney disease or coronary artery disease.

"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," said Dr. Tim Q. Duong, professor of radiology at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine and lead author of the study. "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." 

Researchers found that high blood pressure was more common among COVID-19 patients who had been treated with vasopressors, which constrict blood vessels to raise blood pressure, and corticosteroids, which are used to reduce inflammation of blood vessels.

The study's participants primarily were from low-income communities, a factor that researchers said increases the risk of developing high blood pressure after COVID-19. Other factors that increase risk include prolonged isolation, stress, reduced physical activity and an unhealthy diet.

Researchers remain unsure how COVID-19 may trigger high blood pressure. But they said the coronavirus may infect heart cells and disrupt blood pressure regulation or that acute kidney injury – a common complication during COVID-19 hospitalizations – may contribute to the increased risk. 

Researchers said further studies are needed to determine whether the impacts of COVID-19 on the heart and blood pressure regulation are long-lasting, or whether they will resolve on their own. 

Nearly half of all U.S. adults have high blood pressure, but only 1 in 4 people with high blood pressure is keeping it under control, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Having hypertension puts people at higher risk for heart disease and stroke, the leading causes of death in the United States. 

The study comes amid a late-summer COVID-19 wave that has echoed patterns seen in previous years. Hospitalizations increased 24% over the two-week period that ended Aug. 12, the most recent data from the CDC. Wastewater data suggests cases are up in the Northeast and West, the New York Times reported.

Still, weekly deaths from COVID-19 remain at their lowest point since the pandemic began in 2020. The new dominant variant, known as EG.5, is spreading quickly, but experts believe it is no more severe than previous versions of the virus.

Health experts advise people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza as fall arrives. COVID-19 booster shots are expected to be released in the upcoming weeks.

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