Uncontrolled hypertension is a major risk factor for severe illness from COVID-19

Guitar shaped pool in Memphis, Tennessee. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)
Guitar shaped pool in Memphis, Tennessee. (Dr. Noorali Bharwani)

Hypertension is often called the “silent killer.” Keeping that in mind, when was the last time you had your blood pressure checked?

It is important to have your blood pressure checked on a regular basis. Because of COVID-19 fears, many people are avoiding hospitals and doctors’ offices. Some recent research shows people with uncontrolled high blood pressure are at a high risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

What causes high blood pressure?

Common factors that can lead to high blood pressure include: a diet high in salt, fat, and/or cholesterol. Chronic conditions such as kidney and hormone problems, diabetes, and high cholesterol level can lead to high blood pressure. A family history, especially if your parents or other close relatives have high blood pressure. This can affect you.

Blood pressure above 130/80 mm Hg is considered high blood pressure.

Most of the time, high blood pressure has no obvious symptoms. But left untreated, it can damage the blood vessels. This damage can lead to a range of health problems, including: heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and many others.

More than 100 million North Americans have high blood pressure. At least 30 per cent of these people are not aware they have high blood pressure. Uncontrolled hypertension is very dangerous. It’s even more dangerous because when a patient has uncontrolled high blood pressure, COVID-19 is more likely to be fatal or lead to hospitalisation and serious complications.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that people with hypertension are three times more likely to be hospitalized if they are infected with the coronavirus, compared to those who don’t have high blood pressure. People of any age with certain underlying medical conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

We are learning more about COVID-19 every day.

A recent study published in April in Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that hypertension was one of the biggest predictors of severe illness and death from COVID-19, along with diabetes and obesity. Controlling hypertension, diabetes and obesity is very important.

We eat too much and we do not exercise enough. Our blood vessels become harder and less compliant with age. When the blood is pumped out of the heart into less compliant blood vessels, the blood pressure goes up. So, the heart has to work harder and eventually it becomes tired, weak and fails. It silently causes damage to our vital organs and eventually results in heart attack, congestive heart failure, stroke, kidney failure and blindness.

Research has shown that 50 per cent of the patients with high blood pressure discontinue their antihypertensive medications by the first year. This is no good.

Four steps to lowering your blood pressure:

  1. Exercise most days of the week.
  2. Consume a low-sodium diet.
  3. Limit alcohol intake to no more than one to two drinks per day.
  4. Make stress reduction a priority.

Take care. Be patient. Be safe. Protect yourself and protect others.

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