After many years of good management of their high blood pressure, Americans are dropping this control: The number of Americans with uncontrolled blood pressure rates has increased. And while that trend has intensified since 2015, like most things today, Covid-19 seems to have left its mark.
These rising numbers aren’t limited to adults. High blood pressure is diagnosed in children from the first grade. And yes, the number of children with high blood pressure is growing.
These hypertension numbers are consistent with the rising obesity rate.
After surveying more than 18,000 adults in two decades, researchers in JAMA reported in the fall that the proportion of people with controlled hypertension rose from 31.8% in 1999 to 48.5% in 2008. This value fell to 43.7% by 2018.
Anecdotally, the pandemic appears to have had an impact. According to Livongo, a chronic care management company in California, the majority of its 410,000+ members have high blood pressure and their numbers are growing too.
Livongo surveyed its members from September 2019 to August 2020.
By the end of January 2020, the average proportion of members with high blood pressure was 62%. The percentage peaked at 67% when the first case of Covid-19 was announced in the US and rose to 68% in early April when the CDC recommended wearing face masks. By August the percentage had settled at 65% of the membership.
And then there are the children. Hypertension is a growing problem in children, particularly due to the rise in obesity, said Dr. Griffin P. Rodgers of the National Institute for Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases and Dr. Gary H. Gibbons of the National Heart of the Lung and Blood Institute, both in Bethesda, MD, on a podcast.
Hypertension in children aged six to eleven has increased to 19% and in adolescents to 21%. Doctors admitted that obesity is a complex problem and there is no consistent treatment other than bariatric surgery, which is not an option for the vast majority of people, including children.
Hypertension makes you vulnerable
Stress and fear of health concerns and the economy aren’t causes of persistent high blood pressure, but they can trigger unhealthy habits like smoking, drinking alcohol, and overeating that can raise blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic
And high blood pressure can make you more vulnerable when you have Covid-19.
Hypertension is the most common comorbidity associated with early cases of Covid-19 in China and the United States, according to a report published in the Journal of Human Hypertension in May. Covid-19 patients with high blood pressure were hospitalized more often and had poor results, the report said.
Access to a doctor
People with regular access to a doctor have better blood pressure control; Getting cuffs is usually the first thing to happen in a doctor’s office.
But some Americans have closed access to this doctor’s office. In a recent JAMA podcast, Dr. Howard Bauchner, professor of pediatrics at Boston University School of Medicine, said that job losses during the pandemic could mean many Americans are losing access to health care and control over their high blood pressure.
Other reasons for high blood pressure
Poor diet and a sedentary lifestyle are two main causes of high blood pressure. Walking is usually a cheap and easy way to get exercise. It can also reduce stress. But many Americans don’t have access to safe places to exercise. And lock-downs only make a stress-free walk more stressful.
As for food, opting for french fries as opposed to lean chicken and roasted vegetables can increase a person’s salt intake or lead to obesity, both of which can raise blood pressure.
The pandemic and food insecurity
The pandemic left many working Americans and school children in front of their computers for hours. Prepared groceries and groceries can be delivered to the door, eliminating the need to walk from the car to the restaurant and wander the aisles of the grocery store.
Some Covid-19 restrictions make these even less accessible.
Children who have their only nutritious meal of the day at school are at higher risk when schools are closed. You miss the break too.
Many people refer to the weight gain during the pandemic as “Covid 15,” said Dr. Eric Adler, director of heart transplant and mechanical circulatory support at UC San Diego Health.
“American life expectancy fell for the first time last year, and so many children already have diabetes,” he told Medical Daily. “… Doctors are like firefighters now. We’re trying to put out fires that should never have started. “
Prevent high blood pressure now
High blood pressure has few symptoms. Sometimes people get headaches, but often they have no idea that their pressures are high. Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause hemorrhagic strokes when the force of high blood pressure causes blood vessels in the brain to burst.
There are programs available to help you support your family. Alexandra Schweitzer, Senior Fellow at Harvard Kennedy School, told Medical Daily that “medical offices can screen patients for food insecurity and refer patients to local resources.” The Feeding America website provides information on how to find food banks. Ms. Schweitzer said food banks have reported an increase in users, even in higher-income areas.
Many health plans recognize that prevention is much cheaper than treating high blood pressure, obesity, and diabetes. Some health plans offer programs to help their members who are struggling to achieve healthy eating goals. These resources can include nutritional advice, home delivery of food for high risk members, and foods tailored to meet medical needs.
If your access to fresh, healthy food is restricted, federal programs like SNAP and WIC exist. Do all you can to avoid obesity and high blood pressure because, as Dr. Adler said, “There’s no overwork with a stroke.”
Yvonne Stolworthy, MSN, RN graduated from Nursing School in 1984 and spent many years in intensive care and as an educator in a variety of settings including clinical trials.