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Study: Pandemic made blood pressure worse

Graphic of a blood pressure cuff on a pink background

Feb. 17, 2022—Many Americans may have experienced a small but potentially harmful rise in their blood pressure levels during the early peak of the COVID-19 pandemic. That's according to a study published in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

Researchers looked at data on about half a million U.S. adults. They compared their blood pressure levels from 2018 to 2020.

They found that the average blood pressure levels of the participants rose slightly during the peak of the pandemic, from April to December 2020. During this time, many areas were under stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.

There were no changes in blood pressure levels prior to March 2020.

What could have caused the rise in blood pressure?

Many people skipped doctor visits out of fear of the virus. That means many people with high blood pressure may have missed refilling their medication.

Also, stress from other factors may have led many people to make unhealthy choices, such as eating unhealthy foods, exercising less, drinking more alcohol and sleeping less, the study authors said.

Weight gain was probably not the cause. Men lost weight during the study, and women gained the same amount of weight as they did the year before the pandemic.

Why does blood pressure matter?

Even small increases in blood pressure can take a toll on health. Elevated blood pressure raises the risk of heart attack, stroke, kidney disease and other serious health conditions.

Take your blood pressure back

The study underscores why it's important to keep getting routine health care, even during a pandemic. Another option for getting care might be virtual visits with your doctor. Check out these tips for a successful telehealth visit.

There are things you may be able to do that might help counter any effects of the pandemic on your blood pressure levels.

Keep moving. Aim to get some exercise, such as walking, throughout the week. If you sit a lot at work, spend a few minutes walking around on your breaks.

Eat well. Be sure to eat plenty of fruits and vegetables, as well as low-fat dairy products such as milk. Cut back on salty foods and snacks, such as processed foods and chips. Salt and sodium can boost blood pressure. Keep healthy snacks, such as cut-up veggies and low-fat dip, on hand.

Control stress. Being physically active and making time for relaxing activities are a couple of ways to manage stress. Listen to soothing music. Work on a hobby. Take a relaxing bath.

Know your blood pressure numbers. High blood pressure doesn't typically cause any symptoms. That's why it's important to have yours checked. If you have high blood pressure, ask your doctor if you should check it at home. Checking it at home may help you and your provider know how well your treatments are working for you.

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