Study Shows US Adults Had Increased Blood Pressure Levels During COVID-19 Pandemic

The research team compared the monthly average blood pressures between 2018 and 2019 with blood pressure measures from January through March 2019 to January through March 2020.

Higher blood pressure among middle-aged adults in the United States has been associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, according to research published in the journal Circulation.

The study highlights that nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure and approximately 75% of all cases remain above the recommended blood pressure levels, according to the authors. When stay-at-home orders were implemented in the United States between March and April 2020, there was a shift to remote health care for numerous chronic health conditions, such as high blood pressure, which had a negative impact on healthy lifestyle behaviors for many people, according to the study.

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

In the analysis, researchers used de-identified health data from an employee wellness program to further assess changes in blood pressure levels before and during the COVID-19 pandemic. The data included an estimated half million adults across the United States with an average age of 46 years, 54% of whom were women, and who had their blood pressure measured during an employee health screening every year from 2018 to 2020.

The participants were categorized into 4 groups: normal, elevated, stage 1 hypertension, and stage 2 hypertension, based on the current American Heart Association blood pressure guidelines, according to the press release.

The research team compared the monthly average blood pressures between 2018 and 2019 with blood pressure measures from January through March 2019 to January through March 2020. Next, they reviewed blood pressure changes comparing April to December 2020 with April to December 2019.

Some highlights of the analysis include:

  • A higher increase in blood pressure measures were seen among women for both systolic and diastolic blood pressure, among older participants for systolic blood pressure, and in younger participants for diastolic blood pressure.
  • From April to December 2020, more participants (26.8%) were re-categorized to a higher blood pressure category compared to the pre-pandemic time period, while only 22% of participants were put in a lower blood pressure category.

“From a public health perspective, during a pandemic, getting vaccinated and wearing a mask are important. However, the results of our research reinforce the need to also be mindful of chronic health conditions such as the worsening of blood pressure,” Laffin said in the press release. “Even in the midst of the pandemic, it’s important to pay attention to your blood pressure and your chronic medical conditions. Get regular exercise, eat a healthy diet, and monitor your blood pressure and cholesterol. See your doctor regularly to learn how to manage your cardiovascular risk factors.”

The study authors are planning to do a follow up on these results to find out whether this trend continued in 2021, which could indicate a forthcoming wave of strokes and heart attacks. There was a limitation in the study, which is that the main cause of higher blood pressure is still unclear. The study also may not be representative of adults who do not participate in an employee wellness program, according to the authors.

REFERENCE

U.S. adults’ blood pressure levels increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. American Heart Association. December 6, 2021. Accessed December 6, 2021. https://newsroom.heart.org/news/u-s-adults-blood-pressure-levels-increased-during-the-covid-19-pandemic