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Does having high blood pressure mean you have an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists hypertension (high blood pressure) among a dozen underlying medical conditions. These are conditions that might put someone at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
But because the information about the impact of underlying medical conditions is limited when it comes to COVID-19, individuals with high blood pressure are urged to take every precaution possible to limit potential exposure to the virus.
“Most importantly, individuals with hypertension should not stop taking their blood pressure medication. They should see their primary care physician or advanced practice provider if they have any concerns,” said Mark Meeker, DO, FACP, vice president of community medicine for OSF HealthCare.
What is high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is when the force of your blood pushing against the walls of your arteries is consistently too high. Arteries carry blood from your heart to other parts of your body. Having high blood pressure increases your risk for heart disease and stroke, two leading causes of death for Americans. It is a very common condition, affecting nearly half of the adults in the United States (over 100 million people).
Hypertension is defined as having a systolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 130 or a diastolic blood pressure greater than or equal to 80. Systolic is the upper number when you have your blood pressure taken and is the pressure when the heart contracts. Diastolic is the lower number, and is the pressure when the heart is relaxed between beats. Medication is prescribed when the blood pressure is higher than 140/90 or 130/80 when certain co-conditions are present.
What’s the link with COVID-19?
Hypertension is referred to as the “silent killer” because most often there are no symptoms of high blood pressure. It can cause damage to your body and immune system, threatening your health, without you being aware. It’s important to have your blood pressure checked regularly by your primary care team.
Having high blood pressure makes your heart work harder. This extra work can weaken your heart over time to the point where it can’t pump as much oxygen-rich blood to your body. COVID-19 can further damage the heart, which is especially risky if your heart is already weakened by the effects of high blood pressure.
A weaker immune system is a key reason people with high blood pressure and other health problems are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, according to the CDC. Long-term health conditions and aging weakens the immune system so it’s less able to fight off the virus.
Make changes that matter
- Eat a well-balanced diet that’s low in salt
- Limit alcohol
- Enjoy regular physical activity
- Manage stress
- Maintain a healthy weight
- Quit smoking
- Know your numbers
Seek routine and emergency care
“During this pandemic, it’s important to continue to receive care to manage any chronic conditions you have,” Dr. Meeker said. “Also, it’s very important to not delay life-saving treatment or emergency care if you’re experiencing symptoms of a heart attack or stroke. We have procedures in place to minimize COVID-19 risk during your visits.”
Summing it up
If you have high blood pressure, stay on your medications, have regular check-ins with your primary care team, eat a healthy diet and get daily exercise.
Further, take the necessary precautions to reduce your risk of contacting COVID-19. Wear a mask in public, maintain physical distancing, practice good hand hygiene by washing your hands for 20 seconds with soap and water (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer) and cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or by using the crook of your elbow.