COVID-19 (Coronavirus) and Hypertension

*UPDATE* 20.05.2020

Two months ago, relatively little was known by the scientific community about how COVID-19 affects hypertension patients. While there are still many unidentified factors regarding this illness, there are a few updates we want you to be aware of as you navigate the reopening phase of the pandemic.

Historically, outbreaks like SARS and MERS that trigger severe acute respiratory syndrome typically lead to a lower respiratory tract illness. These coronaviruses multiply by latching onto blood vessels through ACE2, allowing them to easily travel to the lungs, kidneys and other organs.

ACE inhibitor and ARB medications are often used to treat hypertension. These drugs increase the production of ACE2 receptors and relax the walls of the blood vessels, allowing the pressure of the blood to flow with less force. While this lowers your blood pressure, it also makes cells an easier target for the virus. As a result, older hypertension patients have a potentially higher risk of contracting COVID-19.

The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that patients of all ages with high blood pressure and coronary heart disease are developing more severe symptoms and have a higher death rate. Early data from Wuhan, China, and the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) indicated that high blood pressure may be an independent risk factor, but there is little supporting information to understand the dynamics of the situation. The severity of a person’s hypertension condition, the type and dosage of medication taken and other underlying health issues were not considered in the reports.

UnitedHealth is currently spearheading a clinical trial to further determine the impact of ACE inhibitors on the COVID-19 coronavirus. Working with the Yale School of Medicine, an initial analysis of data has determined that hypertension patients who contracted the coronavirus were 40% less likely to be hospitalized if they were taking their prescribed ACE inhibitor medication. However, the drug did not reduce mortality risk.

Until more is known about this novel coronavirus, hypertension patients should continue following CDC safety guidelines and taking their prescriptions. The AHA is available to answer specific questions and offer current, science-based information about how COVID-19 may impact heart patients.

What You Should Know About COVID-19 and Hypertension

With nearly half of Americans having hypertension, questions are swirling as people wonder if they are at a higher risk for a severe COVID-19 infection or if their hypertension medications might introduce a new danger. Much of what the medical community understands about the novel coronavirus is changing rapidly, but here is what we do know based on what has been happening around the world.

Does hypertension increase the risk for a severe COVID-19 infection?

Adults over age 60 are more likely to need critical care after contracting COVID-19. However, the virus is also fiercely attacking those who have weakened immune systems across all age groups. This has been especially true for people with diabetes and heart diseases. Hypertension patients who have other health problems or do not have their high blood pressure under control with medication are at higher risk. A large study conducted by the Chinese CDC identified high blood pressure as a high-risk factor for severe cases and deaths related to COVID-19. However, the data did not factor in such variables as underlying health conditions or if the high blood pressure was under control with medication. Industry experts, including the American Heart Association (AHA), believe hypertension alone does not increase the risk.

Do antihypertensive medications induce a special risk?

On March 11, 2020, The Lancet created a stir with its hypothesis that ACE2 inhibitor medications could potentially increase the severity of a COVID-19 patient’s symptoms because the virus attaches itself to blood vessels via ACE2. ACE inhibitors are used to treat hypertension, which fueled widespread concerns over the safety of established treatments. The esteemed medical journal noted the three independent studies that it cited did not assess prescription treatments as a contributing factor to the non-surviving COVID-19 patients. The AHA, along with the American College of Cardiology and the Heart Failure Society of America, released a statement acknowledging the potential link but noting that no data support beneficial or adverse outcomes. Do not discontinue use of your medication without talking to your medical team.

Do I need to take special precautions?

Very little is still known about the virus, so continue to take the recommended CDC precautions to reduce your exposure. There are several things you can do to stay healthy with hypertension during the COVID-19 outbreak. Monitor those new pantry food staples for high doses of salt, fat and cholesterol, which are major contributing factors to high blood pressure. Along with eating healthy and taking your prescribed medication, exercising regularly, practicing relaxation techniques and reducing alcohol consumption will keep your blood pressure at healthier ranges.

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