Nov. 2, 2022 -- People with high blood pressure saw their levels rise during the first part of the pandemic, as they were less likely to manage their condition, a new report says.

Published Tuesday in the journal Hypertension, researchers found that people were more consistently controlling their blood pressure prior to the pandemic. But during the course of 8 months early during the public health crisis, the proportion of people with controlled blood pressure dropped by 3.43 percentage points.

The researchers compared pre-pandemic health records of 137,593 people to those collected from April 2020 to November 2020. Data were collected from major medical centers in Los Angeles, New York City, and New Orleans.

“The researchers also looked at individual blood pressure readings and the proportion of patients with sustained blood pressure levels of less than 140/90 millimeters of mercury (mmHg) – the widely used marker for high blood pressure,” a National Institutes of Health news release about the study summarized. “They found that the patients' systolic readings (the top number) rose on average by 1.79 mmHg, while their diastolic readings (the bottom number) rose on average by 1.30 mmHg. Although these increases appear small, studies show that just a 2 mmHg increase in blood pressure can raise the risk of major cardiovascular events by as much as 5%.”

“A small increase like that at a population level can have a significant effect, sometimes leading to an increase in heart attacks and stroke,” said lead author Hiroshi Gotanda, MD, PhD, in a statement.

But the researchers also found some positive news in the results – attributing telemedicine and technology with preventing even worse outcomes.

“We expected blood pressure control to be worse due to decreased physical activity, stress, poor sleep, and other cardiovascular disease risk factors that worsened during the pandemic,” said Gotanda. “But the results were better than we expected, probably because [of] the use of telemedicine and home monitoring of blood pressure.” 

According to the CDC, nearly half of U.S. adults have hypertension, or high blood pressure, and only 1 in 4 have their condition under control. More than 670,000 deaths in the United States had hypertension as a primary or contributing cause in 2020, the CDC said.

“We now know that blood pressure may be relatively controlled using technology,” said Gotanda, who is an assistant professor at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in California and also a practicing doctor. “That's an important take-home message when we encounter other public health emergencies in the future.”

Show Sources

SOURCES: 

Hypertension: “Changes in Blood Pressure Outcomes Among Hypertensive Individuals During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Time Series Analysis in Three US Healthcare Organizations.”

National Institutes of Health: “NIH-funded study shows blood pressure levels rose during pandemic.”

CDC: “Facts About Hypertension.”

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