Blood Pressure Control Worsened During COVID Pandemic

Blood pressure control declined in both men and women with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in the United States in 2020, especially among women and older adults, according to a new analysis.

“We know that even small rises in blood pressure increase one’s risk of stroke and other adverse cardiovascular disease events,” lead author Luke J. Laffin, MD, co-director, Center for Blood Pressure Disorders, Cleveland Clinic, Cleveland, Ohio, said in a news release.

The researchers say increases in systolic BP among US adults during the COVID-19 pandemic “could signal a forthcoming increase in incident cardiovascular disease mortality.”

Their study was published online December 6 in Circulation.

Laffin and colleagues analyzed BP data from 464,585 US adults (mean age, 46, 54% women) who had their BP measured as part of employee health screening annually from 2018 through 2020. 

They found that BP levels went up between April and December of 2020 — around the same time stay-at-home orders and other restrictions were put in place.

During this pandemic period, average monthly increases in BP ranged from 1.10 to 2.50 mm Hg higher for systolic BP and 0.14 to 0.53 mm Hg higher for diastolic BP, compared with the pre-pandemic period of April to December 2019.

Increases in systolic and diastolic BP were seen among men and women and across age groups. Larger increases were evident in women for both systolic and diastolic BP; in older individuals for systolic BP and in younger individuals for diastolic BP (all P < .0001).

Laffin and colleagues also assessed changes in BP category based on current American Heart Association (AHA) blood pressure guidelines (normal, elevated, stage 1 or stage 2 hypertension).

During the pandemic, more adults (26.8%) were recategorized to a higher BP category, whereas only 22% moved to a lower BP category, compared with before the pandemic.

“At the start of the pandemic, most people were not taking good care of themselves. Increases in blood pressure were likely related to changes in eating habits, increased alcohol consumption, less physical activity, decreased medication adherence, more emotional stress, and poor sleep,” Laffin said.

However, the increases in BP during the pandemic could not be explained by weight gain, the researchers note, because the observed changes in weight during the pandemic were similar to the pre-pandemic period among 86% of adults completing weight data.

The study authors are following up on these results to determine if this trend continued in 2021.

“Unfortunately, this research confirms what is being seen across the country — the COVID-19 pandemic has had and will continue to have long-reaching health impacts across the country and particularly related to uncontrolled hypertension,” Eduardo Sanchez, MD, MPH, the AHA’s chief medical officer for prevention, said in the news release.

“These results validate why the American Heart Association’s National Hypertension Control Initiative (NHCI) is critically important,” he said.

“With a particular emphasis on historically underresourced communities in the United States, the comprehensive program supports healthcare teams at community health centers through regular blood pressure management training; technical assistance and resources that include the proper blood pressure measurement technique; self-measured blood pressure monitoring and management; medication adherence; and healthy lifestyle services,” Sanchez noted.

The study had no specific funding. Laffin is a paid consultant for Medtronic and medical advisor for LucidAct Health.

Circulation. Published online December 6, 2021. Abstract

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