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Experts say high blood pressure is an underlying condition that can make COVID-19 symptoms more severe. Vladimir Vladimirov/Getty Images
  • In a new study, researchers say blood pressure medications don’t cause COVID-19 symptoms to become more severe.
  • They add that people who stop taking these medications can actually end up with worse symptoms.
  • Experts say that’s because high blood pressure is an underlying medical condition that can worsen COVID-19 symptoms.
  • In addition, a person’s risk of heart attack or stroke increases if they stop taking blood pressure medications.

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COVID-19 symptoms won’t become more severe if you take blood pressure medications, researchers say.

In fact, not taking these medications will likely make symptoms worse.

Scientists from the University of Pennsylvania looked at how two types of medications used in treating high blood pressure (ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers) could either make symptoms worse among those hospitalized for COVID-19 or lessen their severity.

Dr. Jordana Cohen, MSCE, the study’s first author and an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine, said in a press release that some people at the beginning of the pandemic had incorrect information and stopped taking their blood pressure medication.

“However, stopping these medications unnecessarily can increase the risk for severe complications, including heart attack and stroke,” Cohen said. “Now we have high quality evidence to support our recommendation that patients continue to take these medications as prescribed.”

The study looked at 152 adults with COVID-19 between March 31 and Aug. 20, 2020, at 20 large hospitals in seven countries.

All the participants were already using one of the two blood pressure medications and were randomly assigned to either keep taking their medications or stop.

“Consistent with international society recommendations, renin-angiotensin system inhibitors can be safely continued in patients admitted to hospital with COVID-19,” researchers concluded in the study.

ACE (angiotensin-converting-enzyme) inhibitors treat high blood pressure and heart failure by relaxing blood vessels and decreasing blood volume, leading to lower pressure and decreased oxygen demand from the heart.

Doctors said there are still many unknowns concerning COVID-19’s severity.

“There was concern at the beginning of the pandemic that it was possible that taking a certain class of blood pressure lowering medications, ACE inhibitors, and ARBs, might actually worsen COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Nicole Harkin, the founder of Whole Heart Cardiology in San Francisco, told Healthline. “This was because these medications, which collectively block the renin-angiotensin system, were thought to possibly increase the site of entry point for COVID-19.”

Harkin said the recent study was small, but it supports current guidelines that recommend people with COVID-19 keep taking their blood pressure prescriptions.

The study points out that because COVID-19 is associated with severe and acute respiratory issues, “patients with hypertension, diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases are at the highest risk of admission to hospital and mortality due to COVID-19.”

“Individuals with high blood pressure and heart disease are at greater risk for severe complications of COVID-19,” Harkin said. “Discontinuing blood pressure medications can increase your risk of heart attack and stroke and should not be stopped unless discussed with your doctor first.”

Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure, the condition caused by blood being pushed against artery walls with too much pressure. If it stays higher than normal for too long, it can damage the heart and cause other health problems.

Hypertension contributed to nearly 500,000 deaths in the United States in 2018, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). About 45 percent of adults in the United States have the condition, and only about 1 in 4 have their condition under control.

Doctors said having the condition under control is the best way to fight COVID-19, should someone with blood pressure issues develop the disease.

“People with well-controlled blood pressure, on any medication, are less likely to progress to needing mechanical ventilation or dying with COVID-19 infection,” Dr. Spencer Kroll, the founder of The Cholesterol Treatment Center in Morganville, New Jersey, told Healthline.

“It’s important to note, however, that people with hypertension, on any hypertension medication, are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications and progression simply because hypertension usually goes hand in hand with heart disease and sometimes with diabetes,” Kroll noted.

Kroll said people with severe infections can have lower-than-normal blood pressure due to septic shock.

“In such cases, all blood pressure medication may need to be reduced or held,” Kroll said. “But the previously held theory that some blood pressure medications should be changed to prevent COVID-19 infection or its complications is no longer found to be true.”

“Stopping blood pressure medication, if the blood pressure is not low, may lead to worsening heart disease, stroke or kidney failure — all of which would make the risk of COVID-19 complications much worse,” he added.

Experts said the best idea in the long run is getting high blood pressure under control by dealing with issues such as obesity.

“For severity, while hypertension does increase ACE2 expression and is associated with severity, taking the medications doesn’t modify it much,” said Dr. Amy Baxter, the chief executive officer and chief medical officer of Pain Care Labs.

“The body is good at getting to an equilibrium, so taking medications may influence behavior of the receptors, but treating the underlying problem is a bigger deal, for both general health and COVID-19,” she said.