The first year of a pandemic was difficult. Americans have faced a global pandemic, the loss of loved ones, confinements that have fragmented social media, stress, unemployment and depression.
It’s probably not uncommon for the country’s blood pressure to soar.
Scientists reported that blood pressure measurements of nearly 500,000 adults showed a significant increase in 2020 compared to the previous year.
This measurement describes the pressure of the blood against the walls of the arteries. Over time, increased blood pressure can damage the heart, brain, blood vessels, kidneys, and eyes. Sexual function may also be affected.
“These are very important facts that are not surprising but shocking,” Dr. Donald M. Lloyd-Jones, president of the American Heart Association, who did not participate in the study.
“Even small changes in the population’s average blood pressure,” he added, “can have a big impact on the number of strokes. [acidente vascular cerebral]heart failure and stroke events that we are likely to see in the coming months. “
The study, published late last year as a research letter in the journal Circulation, is a strong reminder that even in the midst of a pandemic that has killed more than 785,000 Americans and hampered the access to health care in general, chronic health conditions still need to be cared for.
Nearly half of American adults have hypertension, a chronic disease known as “silent killer” because it can have fatal consequences, although it produces few symptoms.
Hypertension can also put people at greater risk for serious illness if they are infected with coronavirus. (Evidence for this link is mixed, according to the U.S. Government’s Centers for Disease Control and Prevention).
The new study, conducted by researchers at Cleveland Clinic and Quest Diagnostics, looked at data from hundreds of thousands of employees and family members on wellness programs that monitor blood pressure and other health indicators, such as weight.
Participants, from all 50 states in the United States and the District of Columbia, included people who had high blood pressure and others who had normal blood pressure at first.
“We noticed that people didn’t exercise as much during the pandemic, they weren’t getting regular attention, they drank more and slept less,” Dr. Luke Laffin, lead author, preventive cardiologist and co-director of the Center for Blood Pressure Disorders at Cleveland Clinic. “We wanted to know if his blood pressure was changing during the pandemic.”
The researchers found that blood pressure readings changed little from 2019 to the first three months of 2020, but increased significantly from April to December 2020, compared to the same period in 2019.
Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and consists of two numbers. The first number refers to systolic pressure, when the heart contracts, and the second number refers to diastolic pressure, when the heart rests between beats. Normal blood pressure is believed to be 120/80 mm Hg (the so-called 12 out of 8) or less, although there are decades of disputes over optimal levels.
The new study found that the average monthly change from April 2020 to December 2020, compared to the previous year, was 1.10 mm Hg to 2.50 mm Hg for systolic blood pressure and 0.14 to 0.53 for diastolic blood pressure.
The increases were real in men and women of all age groups. Larger increases in systolic and diastolic blood pressure were observed in women.
The average age of study participants was just over 45, and just over half of them were women. But critics said that not including information about participants’ race and ethnicity was a major issue in the study, as hypertension is much more common among black Americans than among whites or the Hispanics.
Blacks have also been disproportionately affected by the pandemic. Laffin said race and ethnicity information was only available to 6 percent of study participants, so an analysis would not be meaningful.
But there is a big difference between black Americans and white Americans and Hispanics when it comes to hypertension, said Kim Williams, a cardiologist at Rush University Medical Center in Chicago and author of the national blood pressure guidelines published in 2017. .
“The state of hypertension has been an epidemic in the African American population for decades,” he said. “Our therapies have improved and our attempt to attract attention has improved, but the gap is widening. And we know that the pandemic has affected different cultures and different aspects of society in different ways.”
Translation by Luiz Roberto M. Gonçalves