A recent research letter published in Circulation details the small but significant rise of observed blood pressure (BP) in adults during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic. While men and women across all age groups experienced higher BPs, larger increases were seen among women, particularly older women.
The longitudinal study involved 460,000 U.S. adults in a national, employer-sponsored health registry who had their BP measured in a clinical setting annually between 2018 and 2020.1 Systolic and diastolic BPs from April to December 2020 were significantly higher than 2019 (Figure). Compared to the previous year, during the pandemic period (April 2020 onwards), mean monthly systolic blood pressures were 1.10 to 2.50 mmHg higher and mean diastolic blood pressures were 0.14 to 0.53 mmHg higher. This increase, although small, may signal a longer-term concern for Americans’ cardiovascular health given that prior studies have found that an increase of 2 mmHg in systolic BP is associated with a significant increase in mortality from stroke and ischemic heart disease. 2
The reasons for the BP increases seen during the COVID-19 pandemic are unknown but are likely due to a number of factors including lifestyle changes, reduced physical activity, increased alcohol consumption, stress, and delayed medical care.3
- Laffin LJ, Kaufman HW, Chen Z, et al. Rise in blood pressure observed among US adults during the COVID-19 pandemic. Circulation. 2022;145(3):235-237. doi:10.1161/CIRCULATIONAHA.121.057075.
- Lewington S, Clarke R, Qizilbash N, et al. Prospective Studies Collaboration. Age-specific relevance of usual blood pressure to vascular mortality: a meta-analysis of individual data for one million adults in 61 prospective studies. Lancet. 2002;360(9349):1903-1913. doi:10.1016/s0140-6736(02)11911-8.
- Czeisler MÉ, Marynak K, Clarke KE, et al. Delay or avoidance of medical care because of COVID-19-related concerns – United States, June 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:1250–1257. doi:10.15585/ mmwr.mm6936a4.