Coronavirus and High Blood Pressure: What’s the Link?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on December 27, 2022
3 min read

If you have high blood pressure, it's a good idea to take extra care to protect yourself during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. There is a possibility that having high blood pressure might put you at greater risk for severe illness and death with COVID-19.

High blood pressure is the most commonly shared preexisting condition among those hospitalized. Having hypertension can almost double the risk of severe COVID illness or death. Other health conditions include cancer, diabetes, or lung disease. 

Why people with high blood pressure may be at higher risk for coronavirus is not known. One possibility could be in the relationship between hypertension and the immune system.  Long-term health conditions and aging weaken your immune system so it's less able to fight off the virus. Almost two-thirds of people over 60 have high blood pressure.

Another possibility is that the higher risk comes not from high blood pressure itself, but from certain drugs used to treat it -- ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs).

This theory may come from research that suggests these types of medications weaken the body’s immune cells.

But other large studies found no ties between the use of these drugs and how severe COVID-19 is. Still other research suggests that they may make COVID-19 less severe. There’s also no proof that people have less severe illness after stopping them.

Stopping these medications may make heart and kidney disease worse. It can also raise your risk of death.

The American College of Cardiology and American Heart Association recommend that you keep taking your high blood pressure medicine as prescribed. If you don’t, it could raise your risk for a heart attack or stroke, putting you in the hospital just as coronavirus cases are coming in.

While pneumonia is the most common complication of the virus, it can also damage the cardiovascular system. 

High blood pressure damages arteries and reduces the flow of blood to your heart. That means your heart has to work harder to pump enough blood. Over time, this extra work can weaken your heart to the point where it can't pump as much oxygen-rich blood to your body.

Coronavirus can also damage the heart directly, which can be especially risky if your heart is already weakened by the effects of high blood pressure. The virus may cause inflammation of the heart muscle called myocarditis, which makes it harder for the heart to pump.

If you also have plaque buildup in your arteries, the virus may make those plaques more likely to break apart and cause a heart attack. Past studies have shown that people with heart disease who get a respiratory illness like the flu or earlier types of coronavirus are at higher risk for a heart attack.

Everyone needs to take precautions to prevent coronavirus. People with high blood pressure and other health conditions need to be extra careful.

The CDC offers this advice:

  • Get vaccinated against COVID-19 from one of the approved vaccines and check the CDC website to make sure that you are up to date on your vaccine booster shots.
  • Make sure you have enough medicine on hand to treat high blood pressure and other health conditions.
  • Stock up on over-the-counter medicines to treat a fever and other symptoms if you get sick.
  • Stay at home and limit contact with other people as much as you can.
  • Avoid crowds and anyone who looks sick. Wear a face mask if you are indoors in public in communities with substantial or high transmission.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and warm water.
  • Clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces like countertops and doorknobs.