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High blood pressure may be the latest condition affected by COVID-19. Bowery Image Group Inc./Stocksy
  • Researchers are reporting that people who have had COVID-19 were more likely to experience a new onset of high blood pressure.
  • The risk was higher for people with preexisting conditions, along with older adults, men, and Black Americans.
  • Understanding the long-term effects of COVID-19 remains a work in progress, and deciphering individual symptoms can be a tricky process.

New research suggests that people who have had COVID-19 are more likely to develop hypertension, even with no prior history of high blood pressure.

The findings were published today in Hypertension, a journal of the American Heart Association.

In an analysis of six-month follow-up data from more than 45,000 people who had COVID-19, researchers reported that 21% of people who were hospitalized for the virus and 11% who were not hospitalized later developed high blood pressure.

While similar effects happen with influenza – a similar respiratory infection – the numbers were higher across the board for people who’ve had COVID-19, the researchers reported.

Tim Q. Duong, a senior study author and a professor of radiology and vice chair for radiology research and associate director of Integrative Imaging and Data Science at the Center for Health and Data Innovation at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in New York City, told Medical News Today that the findings could be a sign of what’s to come for the millions of people worldwide who’ve had COVID-19.

“Infection may trigger new-onset hypertension or exacerbate preexisting hypertension long after acute infection has resolved,” he explained. “It is important to determine whether SARS-CoV-2 infection increases incidence of new-onset persistent hypertension in patients who had COVID-19, as it could constitute a major long-term population health issue.”

The data analyzed in the study comes from the New York metropolitan area, specifically the Bronx – an area with significant lower socioeconomic status.

Duong explained that higher-risk groups include older adults, men, and Black Americans. While increased risk among older adults was expected, the findings provide important new data when it comes to understanding how so-called “long COVID” affects the body.

“This is the first study to show that male COVID patients are more susceptible to developing new hypertension as part of long COVID,” Duong said. “It’s also the first study to show that African-Americans with COVID-19 are more susceptible to developing new hypertension. The reasons that these groups or populations have increased risks are multifactorial.”

Caveats to the data include the fact that participant data was limited to people who had interacted with the healthcare system. This means that the many people who had COVID-19 without seeing a doctor were not represented, so the findings skew toward those who had more severe cases.

While the findings indicate that COVID-19 is associated with the development of high blood pressure that wasn’t there before, there are also a host of preexisting conditions that made the risk higher.

Those in the study who had conditions such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, coronary artery disease, or chronic kidney disease, were more likely than others to develop high blood pressure.

Emily E. Volk, the president of the College of American Pathologists, vice president of Pathology and Clinical Laboratories for the University of Louisville Health System in Kentucky, and an associate professor of pathology at the University of Louisville School of Medicine, said that blood clotting abnormalities have been observed in many people with COVID-19, which in turn carries an increased risk of heart attack and stroke.

“With any organ in the body that doesn’t get the appropriate amount of blood flow, the arterial capillaries feeding it will die and then create more, which leads to a cycle of more inflammation,” Volk, who was not involved in the study, told Medical News Today. “It really can create quite a cycle of destruction. It’s interesting to me that high blood pressure – which is fundamentally an abnormality in the vasculature – would be associated with some patients with long COVID. There may very well be a link there.”

One of the major challenges associated with the pandemic, right from the start, has been a lack of information.

As a new virus, health professionals have been playing catch-up from the start and understanding the long-term effects of COVID-19 remains a work in progress.

Still, in the more than three years since the virus was first identified, experts say significant breakthroughs have been made.

“It’s been remarkable exponential growth in our understanding, and frankly, the fact that the scientific community was able to isolate the virus and then create vaccines for the virus so quickly and so effectively, is remarkable,” said Volk. “It really is a testament to where we have advanced in our understanding of molecular biology, neurology, and immunology.”

Symptoms of COVID-19, and long COVID, are all over the map, but some commonalities have been identified. Volk said that there are many non-specific symptoms that are hard to localize and one major complaint has been headaches or “brain fog.”

“For some patients, this can really interfere with their ability to function out in the world,” she explained. “I think fatigue is one thing, but when you are finding it difficult to do your daily activities, your daily living, because you’re not able to think clearly or do your job that you were previously competent at, I think that’s very frightening to patients.”

Because these symptoms are tough to pin down and treat, Volk recommends that people exercise persistence and patience with their doctors.

“It’s really a diagnosis of exclusion because the symptoms are often non-specific,” she said. “Job one of that patient’s physician is going to be sorting out whether there are other possible causes for the symptoms, because you can’t assume from the start that it’s all due to COVID-19. That’s the hard work that the physician has to sort through with the patient.”

She added that it’s also important, as always, to get vaccinated and or boosted for respiratory infections such as influenza and COVID-19, especially with colder weather and flu season right around the corner.

“If there’s anybody out there who hasn’t gotten the COVID-19 vaccine, it might be a good time to reconsider,” said Volk. “Kids are going back to school and we’re all going to be heading back inside for the fall and winter. If you haven’t done it yet, it’s OK. Anybody who can get vaccinated, we would be happy to vaccinate.”