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In 2021, a study conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 78% of adults in the U.S. believed or were unsure about the truth of at least one false statement about COVID-19. With the wealth of misinformation and disinformation out there, it can be difficult to know what to believe. One common area of confusion is about whether there is a relationship between COVID-19 and hypertension. Read on for the facts on what we know about high blood pressure and COVID-19.

COVID and high blood pressure

One reason why misinformation and disinformation about COVID-19 has spread so successfully is that the scientific community is still working to learn about the virus. COVID-19 is a novel virus. While it bears similarities to other coronaviruses, it does have many unique properties. When it first emerged, we understood very little about it, and some early assumptions about the disease proved to be false or were no longer true with future variants.

Research into COVID-19 is ongoing. Currently, we have some information on the relationship between COVID-19 and high blood pressure, but we will likely learn more in the future. Your primary care provider can keep you informed about the latest research findings so you can understand how hypertension may impact your COVID-19 risk — and vice versa.

Does COVID cause high blood pressure?

At this time, we don’t have enough information to say definitively that COVID-19 causes high blood pressure over the long term. A study published in the journal Circulation revealed that blood pressure levels increased in a group of men and women of diverse backgrounds. For 27% of them, the change in their numbers from before the pandemic was enough to put them in a higher blood pressure category.

These findings made headlines and led some to incorrectly believe that the study proves that COVID-19 causes high blood pressure. However, these individuals weren’t subjects of the study because they contracted COVID-19. They were participating in research related to ongoing blood pressure monitoring that began during the pandemic.

What the study truthfully suggests is that fear about the pandemic may have raised the blood pressure levels of study participants. Stress can contribute to high blood pressure, and during the pandemic, the entire world experienced stress. The World Health Organization reports that during the first year of the pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%.

Even as life returns to normal, stress and anxiety that emerged during the pandemic may continue for many people and continue to impact mental and physical health. So while we don’t know for certain that COVID-19 causes hypertension, people may receive a diagnosis of hypertension for the first time, regardless of whether they actually contracted the virus.

Is high blood pressure a sign of COVID?

High blood pressure is not considered one of the main symptoms of COVID-19. Although symptoms vary from person to person and seem to differ depending on which variant an individual contracts, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that the most common symptoms are:

  • Fever
  • Chills
  • Coughing
  • Shortness of breath
  • Difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle aches and body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Nasal congestion
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea

Does high blood pressure put you at risk for COVID?

Some people are more at risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19 than others. The CDC identifies hypertension as a potential risk factor for severe disease. Your risk of becoming hospitalized or dying from COVID-19 increases when you have multiple risk factors, including:

  • Compromised immune system
  • Cancer or a history of cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Dementia
  • Heart disease
  • Heart failure
  • HIV
  • Obesity
  • Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Smoking or a history of smoking
  • Previous stroke
  • Substance use disorders
  • Tuberculosis

Do blood pressure medications put you at risk for COVID?

During the early days of the pandemic, some experts worried that ACE (angiotensin-converting enzyme) inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin receptor II blockers) could worsen COVID-19 symptoms. At the time, the fear was that the changes that these drugs prompted could make it easier for COVID-19 to thrive in the body. However, later research disproved this theory. One study of 8.3 million people even concluded that these medications may actually reduce the risk of severe COVID-19 by supporting heart health.

High blood pressure and COVID vaccine

The COVID-19 vaccine has been proven to be safe and effective for reducing the risk of hospitalization and death. Having high blood pressure doesn’t make getting the vaccine unsafe. In fact, the CDC urges people who are at an increased risk of severe COVID-19 to get vaccinated. If you aren’t vaccinated, talk to your primary care provider. They can ease your mind about the vaccine and answer questions you may have about its safety and efficacy.

High blood pressure after the COVID vaccine

Since the approval of the Moderna, Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines, misinformation and disinformation about the injections has surged online. On social media and unreliable websites, you may encounter anecdotal reports suggesting that people who got the vaccine developed hypertension afterward—and these so-called reports often make it sound as if this is widespread.

A search of the CDC’s Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS) shows these stories are false. The purpose of VAERS is to track potential side effects for all types of vaccines so that any problems with them can be detected quickly. Patients, their families, doctors and other medical providers can all report potential side effects. The system is searchable and allows you to quickly see how many reports of specific side effects occurred with certain vaccines.

As of April 22, 2022, the system had only 7,224 reports of hypertension from people who got the COVID-19 vaccine. With more than 577 million doses given in the U.S., that works out to roughly 0.001% of people reporting the symptom. Also, keep in mind that a report in VAERS doesn’t prove the vaccine actually caused or contributed to the reported event. Given that the number of reports is so low, it’s possible that the increase in blood pressure experienced by the individuals wasn’t connected to the vaccine at all.

Pfizer vaccine and high blood pressure

In March 2021, a group of researchers at a vaccine center in Switzerland released findings from a study that reported an increase in blood pressure among people who got the Pfizer vaccine. Anti-vaccine misinformation often cites this study as proof that the vaccine causes hypertension, but it leaves out key information. The symptom actually occurred in only 0.07% of people vaccinated at the center, and the researchers admitted that blood pressure levels weren’t routinely checked at the center. As a result, it’s possible that these individuals already had undiagnosed hypertension — or that stress and anxiety over the vaccine may have led to a temporary increase in blood pressure.

High blood pressure after COVID

An estimated 10% to 30% of people who contract COVID-19 experience symptoms after the infection is gone. This condition is known as long COVID. Individuals with long COVID report a wide range of symptoms that impact the cardiovascular system, respiratory system, digestive system, skin, cognition and mental health.

A large review of data obtained from long COVID patients found that 1.3% had newly diagnosed high blood pressure after COVID, but more research is needed to know how widespread hypertension is after infection. Early findings of another study currently underway in the UK reveal that blood pressure levels were nine points higher among people who had COVID-19 in the past than in people who didn’t.

Based on the current data available, it seems possible that COVID-19 may lead to high blood pressure in some people. How severe the increase may be and whether the increase is permanent is not yet known.

If you’re concerned about high blood pressure following COVID-19, a combination of medical treatments like prescription medications and lifestyle changes is likely the answer. Talk to your doctor about whether you would benefit from blood pressure medicine, and consider making these positive changes:

  • Quit smoking
  • Follow a heart-healthy diet rich in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, lean protein and low-fat dairy
  • Reduce your intake of processed foods and salt
  • Achieve and maintain a healthy weight
  • Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity exercise every week
  • Drink alcohol only in moderation
  • Explore stress management techniques like yoga, meditation and deep-breathing
  • Take your blood pressure regularly at home to monitor your progress

Forward is your partner for one-on-one, personalized care and trusted advice

As your primary care provider, Forward provides one-to-one, personalized care based on science. We perform detailed evaluations with genetic testing, labs and vitals to gain a full picture of your health and well-being and will take the time to fully explain health concerns with you, so you can tune out misinformation and make informed decisions. Our 12-week, doctor-led Healthy Heart Program includes diet and exercise optimization and proven treatments to get you on track to accomplishing personal health goals like getting your blood pressure under control.

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