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Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

Why High Blood Pressure is Even More Dangerous in the COVID-19 Era

Are people with high blood pressure at increased risk of getting coronavirus?

If you have high blood pressure, you should take extra care to protect yourself during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. Research shows that people with hypertension are more susceptible to getting COVID-19, are more likely to develop severe symptoms if they do get sick and more likely to die from the infection, especially if they are older.

High Risk Links

The key reason individuals with high blood pressure and other health problems may be at higher risk for coronavirus is due to a weaker immune system. Long-term health conditions and aging weaken the immune system, so it is less able to fight off the virus. Nearly two-thirds of Americans over age 60 have high blood pressure.

Some concern was raised that the medications commonly prescribed to treat high blood pressure, ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs), could make patients more vulnerable to contracting COVID-19 and more susceptible to severe illness if they did become infected. New research published in The New England Journal of Medicine last month found no risk linked to these medications.

COVID Complications

While pneumonia is the most common complication of the virus, it can also damage the cardiovascular system. That is why people with high blood pressure, heart disease and heart failure are at higher risk.

High blood pressure damages the arteries and reduces the flow of blood to your heart. That means your heart has to work harder to pump enough blood. Over time, this extra work can weaken your heart to the point where it is unable to pump as effectively oxygen-rich blood to your body.

Coronavirus can also damage the heart, which can be especially risky if your heart is already weakened from the effects of high blood pressure. The virus may cause inflammation of the heart muscle making it harder for the heart to pump.

If you have plaque buildup in your arteries, COVID-19 may make the plaques more likely to break apart and cause a heart attack. Studies have shown that people with heart disease who contract a respiratory illness, like the flu or earlier types of coronavirus, are at higher risk for a heart attack.

What to Do?

While everyone needs to take precautions to prevent coronavirus, people with high blood pressure and other health conditions should be extra careful.

The best way to avoid getting sick is to stay home as much as you can. If you have to go out, wear a mask and keep at least six feet away from other people. Every time you come home, wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds. Also, clean and disinfect all frequently touched surfaces like cell phones, countertops and doorknobs.

The CDC also recommends that you have enough medicine on hand to treat high blood pressure and other health conditions. Ensure you have enough over-the-counter medicines to treat a fever and other symptoms if you get sick.

While a coronavirus vaccine is not available yet, health care professionals recommend that you stay up to date on other important vaccines. The pneumococcal vaccines – Prevnar 13 and Pneumovax 23 – may prevent pneumonia. Many health professionals also recommend a flu shot in September or early October. Flu symptoms are easy to confuse with coronavirus, which could make it harder for doctors to diagnose if you do get sick.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published June 5, 2020
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