Be extra careful: Doctors to 20 cr Indians with high BP, hypertension who are at Covid risk
New Delhi: More than 20 crore Indians suffer from high blood pressure, and on World Hypertension Day, doctors and health experts’ advice to them is to be extra careful amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
World Hypertension Day is observed every year on 17 May, having been initiated by the World Hypertension League in 2005 to raise awareness about high blood pressure and its challenges.
But this year, the day has assumed particular significance, as high BP is one of the conditions that is said to increase people’s risk of severe illness if they contract the novel coronavirus. Its link with Covid-19 hasn’t been fully established yet, but experts like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States have advised people with high BP to take “extra precautions”.
“People with hypertension should continue to manage and control their blood pressure and take their medication as directed,” it said.
High BP in India
High BP is also recognised as one of the major risk factors for cardiovascular disease and premature deaths worldwide, with the World Health Organization saying in 2015 it is responsible for 7.5 million deaths, about 12.8 per cent of the total of all deaths globally.
The Government of India data released in 2017 found one in eight Indians suffers from hypertension, which translates to 20.7 crore people, of which 11.2 crore are men and 9.5 crore women.
The reasons cited for these high numbers are stress, unhealthy food habits with high sodium content, disturbed sleep patterns and hereditary tendencies.
The Global Burden of Disease study had also reported that hypertension led to 16.3 lakh deaths in India in 2016, and was directly responsible for 57 per cent of strokes and 24 per cent of coronary heart disease deaths.
High BP-Covid link
Hypertension affects the blood flow in arteries, in turn affecting the working of the heart. Covid-19, like other viral illnesses such as the flu, can damage the respiratory system and make it harder for the heart to work.
“For people with heart failure and other serious heart conditions, this can lead to a worsening of Covid-19 symptoms,” the US CDC states on its website.
Initial observations indicated that hypertension and the medications taken for it increased the risk of getting infected and developing severe life-threatening complications due to Covid-19.
A study on 41 patients in China found that 32 per cent of patients had underlying health conditions including diabetes, hypertension, and cardiovascular disease.
Another study published by JAMA Internal Medicine involving 201 people with Covid-19 found 84 developed acute respiratory distress syndrome. Of the 84, 27.4 per cent had hypertension.
However, according to the International Society of Hypertension, there is no evidence that people with hypertension are over-represented amongst those seriously infected by Covid-19. “Indeed, the opposite is true, given that most such cases occur in those over 60 years in whom hypertension usually affects the majority,” it said.
The JAMA study too said the hypertension-Covid link “need(s) further investigation”.
‘Take extra precautions’
Regardless, doctors say people with hypertension should be extra careful amid the Covid-19 pandemic, as it also puts people at the risk of heart, kidney or brain diseases.
“When blood pressure rises above 140/90, it leads to elevated heart rate, vision blurring, anxiety, fatigue or buzzing in the ears. If it is not managed well, it will lead to serious heart disorders, kidney failure or vision loss,” said Dr K.K. Aggarwal, cardiologist and former president of the Indian Medical Association.
“The link between hypertension and Covid-19 is not very clear as of now. However, elderly people with hypertension are more susceptible to Covid-19. They must follow their medications and routines wisely,” Dr Aggarwal said.
Dr Udgeath Dhir, director and head of Cardio Thoracic and Vascular Surgery at Gurugram’s Fortis Memorial Research Institute, added: “People who control their BP will have a better outcome than people who have uncontrolled BP if they suffer from Covid-19.”
“The mainstay for Covid treatment is regular monitoring of BP. Secondly, because of lockdown, people are doing less physical activity. The disturbed sleep pattern and anxiety due to fear of losing jobs can also cause hypertension. In this regard, the diet forms one of pillars in controlling BP along with eating right, with more fluids and fruits intake,” Dr Dhir continued.
“Young people are more prone to anxiety and disturbed sleeping pattern due to anxiety of not going to work, anxiety of future, habit of tobacco and alcohol consumption.”