Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer are more likely to develop serious illness.
We’re currently in the middle of a pandemic due to the spread of the new coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, which causes a respiratory illness called COVID-19. While most COVID-19 cases are mild, some require hospitalization. Researchers are working to learn more about health conditions that may put you at risk for serious illness. One of the conditions being investigated is high blood pressure, which is defined as a blood pressure reading equal to or above 130/80 mmHg. In this article, we’ll dive deeper into what we currently know about COVID-19 and high blood pressure. We’ll take a look at whether you should continue taking your blood pressure medications and what to do if you become ill.

Does having high blood pressure increase your risk for COVID-19 or more severe symptoms?

We’re still learning about underlying health conditions and their impact on COVID-19. As such, it’s currently unknown whether having high blood pressure increases your risk for contracting the virus. But could high blood pressure put you at an increased risk of complications if you do contract the virus and get sick? Researchers are working to answer that question. A recent study investigated more than 2,800 hospitalized individuals with confirmed COVID-19 in China. Investigators made the following observations related to high blood pressure:
  • Out of all study participants, 29.5 percent had high blood pressure. Of those with high blood pressure, 83.5 percent were taking medications to manage their condition.
  • There was a twofold increase in the risk of death due to COVID-19 in people with high blood pressure when compared to those without high blood pressure.
  • Those with high blood pressure who weren’t taking medications to manage their condition were at a greater risk for death compared to those who took blood pressure medications.
  • After a meta-analysis, blood pressure medications like ACE inhibitors and ARBs were associated with a lower risk of death.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recently updated their list of factors that put an individual at increased risk for serious illness due to COVID-19. While a specific type of high blood pressure — pulmonary hypertension — is listed as a risk factor for serious illness, general hypertension is currently not. Instead, the CDC states that based on current research, high blood pressure may put you at risk for serious illness.

Who’s currently at high risk for serious illness?

According to the CDC, the confirmed risk factors for severe COVID-19 illness include:
  • advanced age
  • cancer
  • cardiomyopathies
  • chronic kidney disease
  • chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • coronary artery disease
  • heart failure
  • obesity
  • pulmonary hypertension
  • sickle cell anemia
  • type 2 diabetes
  • a weakened immune system due to an organ transplant

Should you continue to take your medication for high blood pressure?

There are a wide variety of medications people take for high blood pressure. Some examples include but aren’t limited to:
  • angiotensin converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
  • angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs)
  • beta-blockers
  • calcium channel blockers
  • diuretics
You may have read about concerns for two of these drugs, ACE inhibitors and ARBs, and COVID-19 risk. These concerns stem from the fact that these drugs may increase the amount of ACE2 in your body. ACE2 is the receptor that the new coronavirus binds to. Because of this, several studies have focused on these drug types and COVID-19 risk. So far it appears as if there’s little evidence to support the concerns related to ACE inhibitors, ARBs, and COVID-19. Let’s look at the findings so far:
  • A study of more than 18,000 people with confirmed COVID-19 that was published in JAMA Cardiology found that there was no association between taking ACE inhibitors or ARBs and having a positive COVID-19 test.
  • Two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine found that ACE inhibitors and ARBs weren’t associated with the risk of getting COVID-19 or having severe COVID-19 illness.
  • A study of individuals hospitalized with COVID-19 that was recently published in the Journal of Infectious Diseases found that ACE inhibitors and ARBs may actually improve outcomes when continued during hospitalization.

Current guidance

The American Heart Association, Heart Failure Society of America, and American College of Cardiology have released a joint statement regarding taking ACE inhibitors and ARBs during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, it’s recommended that you continue to take ACE inhibitors and ARBs. If you test positive for COVID-19, your doctor should evaluate your condition before adding or removing any blood pressure medications. The CDC also recommends keeping at least a 30-day supply of any medications you take, including those for conditions such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. If you have high blood pressure and have questions about your medications and COVID-19, don’t hesitate to speak with your doctor. They can help address your concerns and offer guidance.
What should you do if you test positive for COVID-19?
If you have high blood pressure and test positive for COVID-19, take the following five steps: Self-isolate Stay home. Only leave to seek medical care. If there are others in your household, try to use a separate bedroom and bathroom. Wear a face covering if you must be around others. Call your doctor Get in touch with your doctor for a consultation. Many doctors are offering telehealth appointments in lieu of in-person appointments during the pandemic. Get guidance Let your doctor know about your positive test result and any symptoms you’re experiencing. They’ll advise you on your blood pressure medications and how to take care of yourself while you recover. Care for yourself Follow all of your doctor’s instructions as you recover. In addition to taking your medications, it’s important to continue to follow their guidance for things like diet and exercise as well. Monitor symptoms Keep track of your symptoms. Don’t hesitate to seek emergency treatment if they begin to get worse.

What to do for mild COVID-19

There’s currently no specific treatment for COVID-19. But for mild cases, there are some things you can do to help with your recovery:
  • Get plenty of rest to aid your body in fighting the infection.
  • Be sure to drink fluids to prevent dehydration.
  • Take over-the-counter (OTC) medications like acetaminophen (Tylenol) to help ease symptoms like fever and any aches and pains.
Remember that these tips are only for cases of mild COVID-19 that can be treated at home. If you have worsening symptoms, seek emergency care.

When to seek care for COVID-19

There are several symptoms that are warning signs of severe COVID-19 illness. Call 911 immediately and explain your situation if you find yourself experiencing any of these symptoms:
  • having trouble breathing
  • experiencing pain or pressure in your chest that’s lasting or persistent
  • noticing a bluish color in your lips, face, or nails
  • feeling confused or disoriented
  • finding that you have trouble waking up or staying awake

How to manage your high blood pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic is stressful for many people. However, those with high blood pressure may feel an increased burden on both their physical and mental health due to the potential risk of more serious illness. You may be wondering what you can do to help manage your blood pressure as well as your mental and physical health during this time. Try out some of the tips below:
  • Select heart-healthy foods. Examples of heart-healthy foods to focus on include vegetables, fruits, whole grains, low fat dairy, and meats like fish or poultry.
  • Avoid or limit foods and drinks that raise blood pressure. It may be tempting to eat comfort foods, but many of these items are high in salt and fat, and can contribute to high blood pressure. Foods or drinks containing caffeine or alcohol can also raise blood pressure.
  • Stay active. Getting exercise is always good for your health and can often lift your mood. It can also help lower your blood pressure.
  • Watch medications. Know that some OTC and prescription medications may raise your blood pressure. Examples include NSAIDs, birth control pills, and corticosteroids.
  • Quit smoking. Smoking can lead to rising blood pressure and can contribute to heart disease. Quitting smoking is hard, but you have support.
  • Limit news. It’s enticing to check the news often. However, try to limit the amount of times you refresh your news feed, as this may contribute to stress. When you do pull up the news, always use trusted sources to prevent the spread of misinformation.
  • Keep yourself busy. Staying occupied and having a regular routine can help you take your mind off current events. There are many ways to stay busy, such as through work, school, or a hobby you enjoy.
  • Try out some stress management techniques. There are several techniques that may help curb your stress levels. Examples include yoga, meditation, and breathing exercises.
  • Stay connected. Even though you’re physical distancing, you can still connect with others. This can be done through phone or video calls with friends and loved ones, or even through online support communities.

Key takeaways

It’s unlikely that high blood pressure itself increases your risk for getting COVID-19. However, it may raise your risk for serious illness if you do contract the virus and become sick. This is particularly the case if you aren’t managing your condition through blood pressure medications. It’s recommended that people with high blood pressure continue taking common blood pressure medications like ACE inhibitors and ARBs during the pandemic. This is supported by research indicating that these drugs don’t increase COVID-19 risk. If you do become ill with COVID-19, isolate yourself and contact your doctor. Follow their guidance on how to care for yourself. Don’t hesitate to seek emergency care if you develop symptoms like trouble breathing or chest pain.