High BP or hypertension is a condition wherein the force of the blood against the artery walls is too high, which decreases the flow of the blood and oxygen to the heart, leading to a heart disease. Normally, hypertension is defined as blood pressure above 140/90, and is considered severe if the pressure goes beyond 180/120. Given that high BP has no symptoms, it is also known as a ‘silent killer’.
Growing data suggests the prevalence of hypertension among people has increased to the pandemic. In a study published in the journal Circulation, it was found that the number of people suffering from high blood pressure has increased during the COVID pandemic.
The study conducted by a team of US researchers highlighted how COVID-19 can indirectly cause health issues, even for those who haven’t contracted the SARs-COV-2 virus.
Almost half a million people with an average age of 45.7 years were involved in the study. The scientists compared their blood pressure levels from 2018 to 2020 and found that in the years prior to the pandemic, there were no significant changes in blood pressure. However during the pandemic, it all changed.
Additionally, the study noticed that older participants had increased systolic blood pressure whilst younger participants had increased diastolic blood pressure. Systolic blood pressure is when the heart is pushing the blood into the arteries, whereas diastolic blood pressure is a measurement of the pressure on the artery walls between heartbeats.
The link between COVID pandemic and hypertension
According to the new study, the rise in the cases of hypertension can be linked to the lifestyle changes that have taken place during the pandemic. Researchers are also of the opinion that people’s hesitancy to see their doctors may have given a boost to their blood pressure rather than putting a stop to it.
Dr Sulaiman Ladhani, consulting chest physician, MD Chest and Tuberculosis, Masina Hospital, Byculla, Mumbai says “Pandemic has definitely increased the risk of hypertension, in fact not only hypertension but other non- communicable diseases like diabetes, mental health disorders.
He explains by saying, “The link between COVID-19 and high B.P. goes both ways. Basically people with high blood pressure are at an increased risk of getting covid and also the chances of complications are high. This mainly occurs because of the low immunity and at the same time TA receptors which are the main infective element for COVID-19 that helps it to infiltrate and cause active infections in hypertensive patients which makes their chances of complications very high.”
“At the same time people who have COVID-19 may develop hypertension post infection. So it’s both ways where people with hypertension are at increased chances of getting COVID with high risk of complications, due to the ace receptors at the same time post Covid recovery, people may also be at high risk of developing hypertension and maybe diabetes.” he adds.
Factors that have contributed to the spike in the numbers
According to Dr Ladhani, the lifestyle changes which have occurred due to this pandemic mainly work from home, sedentary lifestyle, chronic anxiety, stress, these are all predisposing factors have led to increased prevalence of hypertension and other chronic health conditions and mental health disorders.
Dr TS Kler, Chairman Cardiac Sciences, Fortis Heart and Vascular Institute in Gurugram is of the same opinion and says, “Non-communicable diseases like diabetes, coronary artery disease are related to poor lifestyle which includes continued stressful routine , anxiety , unhealthy eating habits etc.” Although according to him the pandemic per say has not increased the risk of hypertension, however, the stress and anxiety associated with the pandemic has certainly caused the number to be on a higher side in otherwise normal individuals.
Steps to take
Dr Kler believes that unhealthy lifestyle habits are reversible factors, which can be achieved by maintaining a healthy waist diameter, keeping Hb1AC levels between 6-7 , blood pressures between 130/80. “It is good to be vegetarian, but if you are non-vegetarian, you may choose fish or chicken and avoid red meat. Having adequate sleep as per your age group and above all keeping a cool attitude towards life and avoiding stress can really make differences,” he adds.
On the other hand, Dr Ladhani emphasizes on the importance of proper masking, vaccination and using sanitizers as safety measures. This, according to him, could lessen the prevalence of anxiety.
Additionally, he said, “If you have anxiety or any other mental health issues, please try and seek counseling and medical help wherever necessary and at the same time try to exercise and get ourselves screened at regular intervals to ensure that we are not suffering from any active lifestyle illnesses but most important would be having a healthy diet and some form of exercise with good sleep and trying to allay anxiety and mental health issues.”