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A recent study found that having COVID-19 may be linked to high blood pressure in people who did not have it before.
If you get COVID, you should discuss your blood pressure with a provider. You may need to monitor it at home after you recover.
High blood pressure can have a negative effect on your health, making it yet another reason to do your best to avoid catching COVID.
It's common for blood pressure to spike during or after an illness, especially if you experienced a fever or are fighting an infection. But a recent study shows for some people who've recovered from COVID-19, blood pressure remains high for months.
What's more, the data shows this new onset high blood pressure is more significant after people had COVID than after they had other viruses, like the flu.
Here's what experts say you need to know about keeping an eye on your blood pressure if you get COVID and what you can do to avoid the virus this winter.
How Common Is High Blood Pressure After COVID?
For the study, researchers looked at electronic medical records from 45,398 patients who did not have a history of high blood pressure (hypertension). The patients were treated for COVID at Montefiore Health System in Bronx, New York, between March 2020 and August 2022.
The researchers compared the patients' data to a second group of 13,864 patients with no history of high blood pressure who were treated for influenza between January 2018 and August 2022 but did not have COVID.
The researchers then looked at how many patients in both groups developed high blood pressure after they had been sick with either COVID or the flu.
The study found that:
21% of patients who had to be hospitalized for COVID and 11% who had outpatient treatment developed high blood pressure after their diagnosis
16% of patients who needed hospitalization for the flu and 4% of patients who recovered at home developed high blood pressure after their diagnosis
The researchers defined "persistent" high blood pressure as blood pressure readings above 140/80 that continued for six months after the initial positive COVID or influenza test.
The patients at highest risk of developing persistent high blood pressure after COVID infection included:
Patients over 40 years old
Patients with pre-existing conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), coronary artery disease, and chronic kidney disease
Patients who needed medications like corticosteroids or IV treatments for blood pressure that is too low (vasopressors) during a COVID hospital stay
It's important to note that the study had some limitations. For example, it only included patients who sought care for COVID and only people seeking care in a single healthcare system. The patients' vaccine status (which could have affected how sick they got if they caught COVID) may not have been recorded in their medical records, depending on where they got vaccinated.
It's also possible that some of the patients had high blood pressure before they got COVID but had not been diagnosed.
Why Hypertension and COVID Can Be linked
This study's authors have not yet determined the percentage of patients with new high blood pressure—if any—who will eventually go back to their normal levels, or whether having high blood pressure after COVID will affect their long-term heart health.
The researchers are also unclear why some patients developed high blood pressure after having COVID—but there have a few theories.
Senior study author Tim Q. Duong, PhD, a professor of radiology and the vice chair for radiology research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City, said his team speculates that COVID can stimulate the hormone system responsible for regulating blood pressure, called the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system (RAAS). This stimulation may result in higher blood pressure.
"[Factors like] hyperinflammation, cardiovascular and respiratory stress, metabolic stress during acute COVID, the general pandemic stress, and reduced physical activity during the pandemic could also trigger new hypertension," Duong told Verywell.
Persistent high blood pressure after infection has resolved may also be characteristic of symptoms of long COVID.
What Are the Consequences of High Blood Pressure?
High blood pressure is a serious health problem, even when it's not related to COVID. People who may have risk factors for high blood pressure—like a family history or certain health conditions—should be even more aware of their blood pressure if they get COVID.
In a press release accompanying the research Duong said that the study's findings should "heighten awareness" for providers of the need to screen at-risk patients for high blood pressure and related conditions after they've had COVID.
"From a public health perspective, a small rise in blood pressure at the population level could increase the incidence of many hypertension-related complications, such as stroke, heart disease, and kidney disease," Duong told Verywell.
How to Keep Yourself Safe
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) predicts that COVID rates will rise again this winter, but the number of people who develop severe illness may not be as high as it was in previous years. Public health officials are already doing wastewater surveillance and tracking COVID-related emergency room visits, hospitalizations, and deaths.
The SARS-CoV-2 virus that causes COVID is also still evolving into new variants. While we're still waiting to see how the updated COVID vaccines will do against the newer strains of the virus, the CDC is recommending that everyone aged 6 months and older receive at least one updated dose this fall.
"People should continue to view COVID as a very real, present threat," Karla Robinson, MD, a medical editor at GoodRx, told Verywell. "We're not seeing the same number of hospitalizations and deaths as we were at the height of the pandemic, but people need to have the same approach to COVID. It's still a serious illness that can also have an acute impact and long-lasting effects."
Robinson recommends that patients and their providers work together to watch for post-COVID complications like high blood pressure. For example, your provider may want you to check your blood pressure at home or come into the office to have it monitored.
"We're still learning about some of the long-term complications of COVID," said Robinson. "Take it seriously and ensure you are doing everything possible to prevent COVID infections."
What This Means For You
High blood pressure is linked to many negative health effects, and a new study suggests that catching COVID could raise your BP even if you didn't have high levels before. Keep taking steps to prevent COVID, like getting an updated booster shot, keeping your hands clean, masking in public places, and avoiding people who are sick.
The information in this article is current as of the date listed, which means newer information may be available when you read this. For the most recent updates on COVID-19, visit our coronavirus news page.
Read the original article on Verywell Health.