Your Blood Pressure Likely Rose During COVID — Here’s How to Reduce it

Blood pressure control
A doctor monitors a patient for high blood pressure. Kind Disease Control Centers

Early in the pandemic, it was discovered that high blood pressure, also called hypertension, put people at greater risk for serious COVID-19-related complications.

Increased attention to blood pressure continued in December 2021, the American Heart Association reported that blood pressure levels have generally risen for men and women over the past two years.

We can attribute the rise to more people engaging in behaviors — fueled by limitations and lifestyle changes brought about by the pandemic — that contribute to high blood pressure. These include eating processed foods, increasing alcohol use, and reducing exercise and physical activity. There is also the additional factor of increased stress levels that people have experienced during this period.

In addition, we have observed an increase in blood pressure in patients with previously controlled hypertension. This is worrying because high blood pressure over time can lead to serious complications such as stroke, heart attack, heart failure and kidney failure.

Check for hypertension with the help of your doctor

It is important to note that the increase in blood pressure may be gradual or may increase rapidly. For patients who are sensitive to hypertension, risk factors that rapidly increase blood pressure include consuming more than two alcoholic beverages a day, consuming a high-sodium diet, and treating acute and chronic stress.

Such stress can cause an increase in blood pressure by increasing adrenaline and cortisol levels. Sleep disorders, such as sleep apnea, also contribute to high blood pressure.

If you experience a sudden rise in blood pressure, it is vital that you contact your primary care physician immediately to rule out any secondary causes. You should measure your blood pressure at each appointment. If the reading returns as elevated, the blood pressure should be repeated to verify the numbers.

If you have high blood pressure, there are several ways to monitor and control it:

  • Initial guidance – Your doctor can give you instructions on how to record blood pressure at home and make changes to a healthy lifestyle.
  • I follow A follow-up visit for high blood pressure should be scheduled. You should keep in close contact with your care provider until your hypertension is well controlled. Then follow-up appointments every 6 months are recommended.
  • Medication and treatment – If your blood pressure remains high, your doctor may discuss treatment options with you, such as blood pressure medications.
  • Tests – Your kidney function will also be monitored with annual blood and urine tests.
  • Health training – If you have severely controlled blood pressure or need additional monitoring or training, many healthcare providers offer health coaches who keep in touch with you and provide support, training and guidance.

Ways to lower your blood pressure on your own

While medical intervention to treat high blood pressure is often necessary, dietary changes can also have a huge impact. In fact, lifestyle modification is vital and is the backbone of any hypertension treatment.

It is recommended that those at risk for high blood pressure switch to a DASH diet or a Mediterranean diet. These are generally low in processed carbohydrates and sugar, rich in fruits and vegetables, and include moderate amounts of lean protein, such as chicken and fish, and healthy fats, such as olive oil, nuts, and avocados.

In some studies, this type of diet has been shown to lower blood pressure by 5 to 10 degrees. Reducing sodium intake to no more than 1,500 milligrams a day can lower blood pressure by an additional 4 to 5 degrees.

Combined with a healthy diet, exercising for 90 to 150 minutes a week can also significantly lower blood pressure. These changes often lead to weight loss, which improves blood pressure. Reducing stress and limiting alcohol intake can also make a big difference.

Talk to your primary care physician if you are concerned about managing your hypertension. Together, you can come up with an appropriate plan to deal with it, make lifestyle changes and reduce the risk of serious complications.

David HallMD, is a certified internal medicine practitioner with Sharp Rees-Stealy Medical Group.

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