Dec. 7, 2021 -- Blood pressure measurements increased significantly in the U.S. last year as people dealt with the pandemic, lockdowns, unemployment, depression, and stress, according to a new report published in the journal Circulation.
Between April and December 2020, systolic and diastolic measurements were significantly higher than in 2019, which could affect people’s health far beyond the pandemic.
“These are very important data that are not surprising, but are shocking,” Donald Lloyd-Jones, MD, president of the American Heart Association, told The New York Times.
“Even small changes in average blood pressure in the population can have a huge impact on the number of strokes, heart failure events, and heart attacks that we’re likely to be seeing in the coming months,” he said.
Researchers at the Cleveland Clinic and Quest Diagnostics analyzed data from more than 464,000 employees and family members in employer-sponsored wellness programs that tracked health measures such as blood pressure and weight. The study included people from all 50 states and the District of Columbia who had normal or high blood pressure at the start of the study.
The research team found that blood pressure readings didn’t change much between 2019 and the first 3 months of 2020. But they increased significantly from April 2020 through December 2020, as compared with the same time in 2019.
The increases were across all age groups and both men and women, though larger increases were seen in women.
“We observed that people weren’t exercising as much during the pandemic, weren’t getting regular care, were drinking more and sleeping less,” Luke Laffin, MD, the lead study author and co-director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic, told the newspaper.
About half of American adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension, which can be life-threatening, the newspaper reported. Hypertension increases pressure on artery walls, which can damage the heart, brain, blood vessels, kidneys, eyes, and sexual function. High blood pressure can also put people at greater risk for severe COVID-19.
The study authors can’t say for sure what caused the increase in blood pressure, though it’s likely a combination of stress, alcohol consumption, less exercise, fewer doctor visits, and a not following medication schedules.
“It is probably multifactorial,” Lloyd-Jones told the newspaper. “But I think a critical piece is that we know so many people lost contact with the health care system, and lost control of blood pressure and diabetes.”
The study authors encouraged Americans to consider their overall health, particularly conditions such as high blood pressure that could affect them after the pandemic.
“There are also public health consequences from not seeing your doctor regularly, making poor dietary choices, and not exercising,” Laffin said. “If we think about the long-term implications, that’s potentially more profound.”