Why uncontrolled high blood pressure is especially risky right now

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is not a great diagnosis. Having this condition is associated with heart failure, stroke, and kidney damage, as well as a certain type of dementia (per Mayo Clinic). The good news: with lifestyle changes — a healthier, lower sodium diet, and exercise — as well as medication, you can control high blood pressure, so you're less likely to face these outcomes. The bad news: we're doing a worse job now at controlling hypertension than we have in years, according to findings presented at an American Heart Association virtual conference, which found an 11 percent decrease in the number of Americans who've managed their hypertension during the years of 2017 to 2018, compared to 2013 to 2014. Nearly half of all adult Americans have high blood pressure, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Considering that we're now in a pandemic, this is especially troubling. That's because people with uncontrolled hypertension are at risk for bad outcomes if they become infected with coronavirus. "Uncontrolled hypertension is more likely to be associated with long term damage to the heart and kidneys, which do make you more likely to be more sick if you are COVID positive," Craig Smith, M.D., interventional cardiologist and medical director of the Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at UMASS Memorial Medical Center, told ABC News.

Coronavirus negatively affects those with uncontrolled hypertenion

Most people associate coronavirus with having trouble breathing, but in fact, this infection can also damage the heart directly — and if you have high blood pressure, your heart already is weakened because damage to the arteries makes it harder to pump blood into this critical muscle. If you have plaque in your arteries, it's also possible the virus could make that plaque break apart, which may cause a heart attack (via WebMD). 

It's also possible that coronavirus itself causes an existing case of high blood pressure to become worse, although that link isn't completely established yet. "What was found is COVID infects the cells that help regulate blood pressure, suggesting a possible link between hypertension and severe COVID infection," cardiologist Dr. Steven Rough explained to Sharp Chula Vista Medical Center. "More studies are needed to determine if there is, in fact, a cause and effect."

If you've been avoiding going to the doctor, now is the time to get a checkup and make sure your blood pressure is normal. "Individuals with high blood pressure need to be aware of their condition, so they can take steps to control it," the lead author of the American Heart Association study, Dr. Brent M. Egan, told Healthline. "For many individuals, management includes both a healthy lifestyle and medications."