Keeping a lid on blood pressure during the coronavirus crisis

Maintaining healthy blood pressure levels is always important, but even more so in the era of COVID-19.

That’s because early findings suggest high blood pressure could raise your risk of getting the coronavirus if you’re elderly, and it could raise your risk of experiencing severe complications from the coronavirus regardless of your age. Nearly half of U.S. adults have high blood pressure, or hypertension, which is defined as consistent readings of 130/80 or above.

Data from the initial COVID-19 outbreak in Wuhan, China, shows an overall mortality rate of about 2% among patients with the virus. But the rate was 6% in patients with high blood pressure. The rate was also elevated for people with diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer.

If you have high blood pressure, here’s what you should know to stay healthy:

Prevention is the best defense

If you have high blood pressure or another underlying condition, it’s especially important to follow recommendations about social distancing, hand-washing and other practices that can prevent COVID-19’s spread.

Follow medical advice

Patients taking common types of blood pressure medicines — angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) — who contract COVID-19 should continue treatment unless otherwise advised by their physician, according to a statement from the American Heart Association, the Heart Failure Society of America and the American College of Cardiology. Consult with your health care provider before changing treatment strategies. Some medical offices are offering virtual, or telemedicine, visits.

Avoid high blood pressure hazards

Various factors can be contributors to high blood pressure. Use extra caution with:

  • Over-the-counter medications. Decongestants and painkillers called NSAIDs, such as naproxen and ibuprofen, can increase blood pressure. People with heart concerns should limit or avoid them.
  • Some prescription drugs. People taking corticosteroids, oral birth control, immunosuppressants, mental health drugs and some cancer medications should monitor their blood pressure.
  • Alcohol and caffeine. Limit these. No more than three cups of caffeinated beverages a day, for instance.
  • Herbs and food combinations. Some herbal supplements such as licorice can raise blood pressure, and foods such as cured meats can interact with some antidepressants.

Manage stress

Stress can lead to bad habits, such as poor diet, that can increase the risk of developing high blood pressure.

Have extra medication on hand

Try to ensure you have enough prescription medication to last for several months of sheltering in place. Mail-order prescriptions might help you stock up and/or stay in.

Recognize a blood pressure emergency

A hypertensive crisis occurs when blood pressure rises quickly to readings of 180/120 or greater. If other symptoms occur such as chest or back pain, numbness or weakness, loss of vision, or difficulty breathing or speakingcall 911.

Don’t hesitate to reach out

The American Heart Association’s free online Support Network connects people with similar health concerns. (Find “High Blood Pressure” under “Chronic Conditions.”)

The American Heart Association is funding new research and connecting researchers and doctors with the latest information.

Get the latest American Heart Association information and recommendations on COVID-19.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information and resources for COVID-19.