Coronavirus (COVID-19) and high blood pressure
In recent weeks, you may have read news stories claiming that people with high blood pressure (hypertension) are more at risk from COVID-19.
The truth is that people with high blood pressure are not more likely to get COVID-19, but they may be slightly more susceptible to the effects of the virus if they become infected. How high a person’s risk is depends upon factors such as the severity of their condition and whether they have other health issues.
Some news outlets have also published stories suggesting that taking medication for high blood pressure can increase the risk of getting seriously ill from the virus. However, as explained by the British Heart Foundation here, there is little evidence to suggest that medicines such as ACE inhibitors and Angiotensin Receptor Blockers will make you more susceptible to the effects of COVID-19.
Moreover, making a change to medication, or stopping it entirely, may have has serious medical risks of its own. For this reason, if you are taking medication for high blood pressure, you should continue to take it as normal, unless directed otherwise by your doctor.
I have high blood pressure. Am I at risk from COVID-19?
The advice currently being offered differs slightly from one health organisation to the next. For example, the NHS does not list high blood pressure as a marker for particularly high risk, but does list heart disease (which is often associated with hypertension) within the “moderate risk” group.
The British Heart Foundation (BHF), however, considers people with high blood pressure are at high risk, explaining that “we don’t know everything about who is most at risk of complications.” The BHF advise that people with high blood pressure stay at home where possible and only go out for essential things like food, medicine or exercise.
The connection between high blood pressure and the severity of COVID-19 infection isn’t yet understood. However, it is believed that people with hypertension may be more at risk and so should take extra precautions to avoid infection.
What should I do if I have high blood pressure?
The first thing to know is that people in the highest risk groups were contacted by the NHS and told to practise shielding at the beginning of lockdown. This is where you stay in your home at all times and limit physical contact with all other people.
From 6th July, the government will be advising that the clinically extremely vulnerable in England:
- may, if they wish, meet in a group of up to 6 people outdoors, including people from different households, while maintaining strict social distancing
- no longer need to observe social distancing with other members of your household
- in line with the wider guidance for single adult households (either an adult living alone or with dependent children under 18) in the general population, may from this date, if you wish, also form a ‘support bubble’ with one other household. All those in a support bubble will be able to spend time together inside each other’s homes, including overnight, without needing to socially distance
This is a small advisory change that brings those affected a step nearer others in their communities.
If you didn't receive a letter from the NHS, it’s likely that you’re not at high risk from COVID-19. This means that you shouldn’t need to practise shielding. You may, however, be at moderate risk from the virus, particularly if you are over 70, pregnant, obese, or have another condition such as asthma.
The best thing to do if you are concerned is to speak to your doctor. Many GP surgeries are currently limiting their face-to-face appointments and relying on telephone consultations However, unless your GP surgery is completely closed, you should be able to contact your doctor via phone and ask for their advice.
In the meantime, you should continue to take your high blood pressure medication(s) as normal, unless your doctor has told you to make a change. You should not take any new medication unless advised by your doctor. You should continue to practise social distancing.
Can I keep track of my own blood pressure?
If you have high blood pressure and you’re concerned about your condition worsening during lockdown, you can start taking your own readings. To do this you’ll need a home blood pressure monitor. Find out more about taking your blood pressure at home.
Home readings often gives a better indication of your blood pressure, as you are more likely to feel relaxed and comfortable than you would in a doctor’s surgery. The important thing is to use your monitor correctly, so be sure to read all the instructions very carefully.
If you notice an increase in your blood pressure readings over a prolonged period, it’s a good idea to contact your doctor for advice.