COVID-19 may increase the risk of developing high blood pressure, even more so than the flu, new research suggests.
The analysis, published in the American Heart Association journal Hypertension, may be the first to examine the development of and risk factors for high blood pressure in people infected with COVID-19 versus the flu, a similar respiratory virus.
The findings are "alarming" and suggest more people could develop high blood pressure in the future, creating "a major public health burden," the study's senior author, Tim Q. Duong, said in a news release. Duong is a professor of radiology and vice chair for radiology research at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Health System in New York.
"These findings should heighten awareness to screen at-risk patients for hypertension after COVID-19 illness to enable earlier identification and treatment for hypertension-related complications, such as cardiovascular and kidney disease," he said.
Researchers analyzed health records from Montefiore Health System in New York City. The study included thousands of people with a COVID-19 infection between March 2020 and August 2022, and thousands more with influenza but not COVID-19 between January 2018 and into 2022. All the patients returned for a follow-up within three to nine months after testing positive for COVID-19 or influenza.
The analysis found that patients hospitalized with COVID-19 were more than twice as likely to develop persistent hypertension than those in the hospital with the flu virus. People with COVID-19 who were not hospitalized were 1.5 times more likely to develop persistent hypertension than their flu counterparts.
People with COVID-19 at higher risk of developing high blood pressure were older, male, Black or had preexisting conditions such as coronary artery disease or chronic kidney disease. Persistent high blood pressure also was more common among people with COVID-19 who were treated with corticosteroid medications.
Other factors may have contributed to the development of high blood pressure, the authors said, including lower socioeconomic status, the effects of isolation, psychosocial stress, reduced physical activity, unhealthy diet and weight gain during the pandemic.
Because the findings were limited to people who returned to Montefiore during the follow-up period, it's possible those people had more severe COVID-19, the authors said. Other limitations include the possibility that some patients had undiagnosed high blood pressure and uncertainty over their COVID-19 vaccine status, which might affect the severity of a COVID-19 infection.
Researchers said future studies should determine whether heart and blood pressure complications from COVID-19 resolve on their own, or if there are other long-term effects of COVID-19 on cardiovascular health.