Social isolation during lockdown causes blood pressure to soar

Lockdown health warning: Social isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic triggers a 37% spike in hospital patients with high blood pressure due to stress and poor diets

  • Study assessed 1,643 patients admitted to a hospital in Buenos Aires 
  • Looked at patients in the emergency department from March 20 to June 25
  • A total of 391 (23.8 per cent) were found to have an elevated blood pressure 
  • In the previous three months the percentage was just 15.4% and for the same three months in 2019 it was 17.5%

Stress caused by lockdown is being blamed for an alarming rise in the amount of people suffering from high blood pressure. 

At one Argentine hospital, nearly a quarter of emergency patients admitted between March 20 and June 25 suffered from the condition.  

Out of 1,643 patients, 391 (23.8 per cent) were found to have the condition.

This percentage is more than a third (37 per cent) higher than the comparative figure for the same three months in 2019, doctors reveal.

Dr Matías Fosco of Favaloro Foundation University Hospital in Buenos Aires led the study and said: ‘There are several possible reasons for the connection between social isolation and high blood pressure. 

‘For example, increased stress because of the pandemic, with limited personal contact and the onset or exacerbation of financial or family difficulties. 

‘Changed behaviours may have played a role, with higher intake of food and alcohol, sedentary lifestyles and weight gain.’ 

More than one in five adults in the UK suffer with high blood pressure, but its prevalence varies by nation, mostly due to diet. 

Fatty foods, stress and smoking can restrict the body’s blood vessels, increasing the pressure.

Prolonged high blood pressure can lead to an increased risk of strokes, heart attacks and other chronic conditions. 

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Nearly a quarter of emergency patients admitted to an Argentine hospital during coronavirus lockdown between March 20 and June 25 suffered high blood pressure. Out of 1,643 patients, 391 (23.8 per cent) were found to have the condition

Mandatory social isolation measures to try and combat the spread of the pandemic was implemented in Argentina on March 20 as a part of a general lockdown.

People were told to stay at home, except for essential workers such as doctors and nurses.

Much like in the UK and in other countries worldwide, Argentines were permitted to leave home only to buy food, medicine and cleaning supplies. Schools and universities closed and public events were suspended.

Study author Dr Matías Fosco said: ‘Admission to the emergency department during the mandatory social isolation period was linked with a 37 per cent increase in the odds of having high blood pressure – even after taking into account age, gender, month, day and time of consultation, and whether or not the patient arrived by ambulance.

‘After social isolation began, we observed that more patients coming to emergency had high blood pressure. We conducted this study to confirm or reject this impression.’   

The frequency of high blood pressure among patients was compared to two previous time periods: the same three months in 2019 and the three months immediately before social isolation.

A patient’s blood pressure is taken as part of standard procedure and almost every person (98.2 per cent) admitted between March 21, 2019 and June 25 this year was included in the study.

Only 1,643 patients were admitted to the emergency department in this three-month window — a drop of more than half when compared to the three previous months and the same window in 2019. 

During the social isolation period, 23.8 per cent of patients admitted to emergency had high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can have a catastrophic impact on a person’s long-term health, It has been linked to heart attacks, strokes, sight loss and kidney problems 

This is significantly higher compared to the same period in 2019, when it was 17.5 per cent, and to the three months before social isolation, when it was 15.4 per cent.    

Dr Fosco noted that the reasons for admission were similar between all three periods studied, so were not responsible for the increase in high blood pressure.

But he said: ‘Patients may have felt more psychological tension during transportation to the hospital because of travel restrictions and police controls and a fear of becoming infected with coronavirus after leaving home.

‘In addition, patients being treated for high blood pressure may have stopped taking their medicine due to preliminary warnings about possible adverse effects on Covid-19 outcomes, which were later dismissed.’

Dr Fosco added: ‘Blood pressure control helps prevent heart attacks and strokes and serious illness from Covid-19, so it’s essential to maintain healthy lifestyle habits, even under social isolation and lockdown conditions.

‘Many regulations related to the pandemic have now relaxed and we are investigating if this is reflected in the blood pressure of patients admitted to emergency.’

Dr Héctor Deschle, Scientific Programme Chair of SAC 2020, where these findings were presented today, said: ‘This study illustrates the collateral damage generated by isolation.

‘There has been a significant decrease in heart disease consultations, which inevitably leads to avoidable complications.’

WHAT DOES IT MEAN IF I HAVE HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE?

High blood pressure, or hypertension, rarely has noticeable symptoms. But if untreated, it increases your risk of serious problems such as heart attacks and strokes.

More than one in four adults in the UK have high blood pressure, although many won’t realise it.

The only way to find out if your blood pressure is high is to have your blood pressure checked.

Blood pressure is recorded with two numbers. The systolic pressure (higher number) is the force at which your heart pumps blood around your body.

The diastolic pressure (lower number) is the resistance to the blood flow in the blood vessels. They’re both measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg).

As a general guide:

  • high blood pressure is considered to be 140/90mmHg or higher
  • ideal blood pressure is considered to be between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg
  • low blood pressure is considered to be 90/60mmHg or lower
  • A blood pressure reading between 120/80mmHg and 140/90mmHg could mean you’re at risk of developing high blood pressure if you don’t take steps to keep your blood pressure under control.

If your blood pressure is too high, it puts extra strain on your blood vessels, heart and other organs, such as the brain, kidneys and eyes.

Persistent high blood pressure can increase your risk of a number of serious and potentially life-threatening conditions, such as:

  • heart disease
  • heart attacks
  • strokes
  • heart failure
  • peripheral arterial disease
  • aortic aneurysms
  • kidney disease
  • vascular dementia

Source: NHS

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