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Blood Pressure Levels Rise in Wake of 2020 Shutdown

Blood pressure levels rose among US adults after the pandemic-related shutdowns of spring 2020, according to new research that shows women and older adults had the highest increases.

The findings are published in the American Heart Association’s journal Circulation.

“At the start of the pandemic, most people were not taking care of themselves,” lead study author Luke Laffin, MD, said in a news release. Laffin is codirector of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at the Cleveland Clinic in Ohio.

“Increases in blood pressure are likely related to changes in eating habits, increased alcohol consumption, less physical activity, decreased medication adherence, more emotional stress, and poor sleep,” Laffin says. “And we know that even small rises in blood pressure increase one’s risk of stroke and other adverse cardiovascular disease events.”

Almost one-half of US adults have hypertension, a leading cause of heart disease. As dietitians know, blood pressure is described using two numbers: systolic, the top number that measures the pressure in the arteries when the heart beats, and diastolic, the bottom number that measures pressure in the arteries between beats when the heart is resting.

In this nationwide study, researchers analyzed health data gathered from 2018 to 2020 for 464,585 participants with an average age of 46. They compared blood pressure levels prepandemic with those that followed.

They found no change in blood pressure levels in the time leading up to March 2020, when the arrival of COVID-19 sparked a nationwide shutdown. But from April to December, when compared with the same time in 2019, average monthly blood pressure increases ranged from 1.1 to 2.5 mm Hg higher for systolic measurements and 0.14 to 0.53 mm Hg higher for diastolic.

Among women, the research showed increases in both systolic and diastolic measurements. Meanwhile, older adults experienced an increase in systolic blood pressure levels, and younger adults had an increase in diastolic measures over the same time period. Overall, 1 in 4 adults in the study were reclassified to a higher blood pressure category by the end of 2020.

The study didn’t pinpoint why blood pressure rose, but did suggest it wasn’t related to weight gain because men in the study experienced a drop in weight during the pandemic study period while women experienced the same increase in weight as the year before the pandemic. The research team says it will continue to analyze blood pressure trends in this population for 2021.

— Source: American Heart Association