How COVID-19 Lockdowns Could Be Affecting Your Blood Pressure

Studies show that stress and worry about the coronavirus can affect your mood, but did you realize that lockdowns related to COVID-19 can raise your blood pressure, too? A new study from Argentina notes that admission to the emergency department during a three-month mandatory lockdown period earlier this year was linked with a 37 percent increase in the chances of having high blood pressure, according to the European Society of Cardiology (ESC).

Dr. Matías Fosco, an emergency room physician at Favaloro Foundation University Hospital in Buenos Aires, conducted a study of 12,241 adult patients at the hospital where he works. He presented the findings at a virtual meeting last week at the 46th Argentine Congress Cardiology.

The research has not yet been peer-reviewed or published in a scientific journal, according to Healthline. But the findings reflect what doctors such as Dr. Nicole Harkin, a cardiologist and founder of San Francisco-based Whole Heart Cardiology, also have noticed.

"During the pandemic, we've certainly seen a decrease in routine follow-ups and preventive care, and with that, unfortunately, a rise in patients coming to the hospital with heart attack complications and other emergencies," Harkin told Healthline. "We've also seen an unprecedented amount of stress with the election, virtual schooling, economic strain, and everything else that has come our way this year... I'm not at all surprised by the results of this study that found, on average, higher blood pressure in patients presenting to the emergency room."

Increased stress and fewer healthy habits during isolation are likely causes

During Argentina's mandatory "social isolation period" from March through June to slow the spread of COVID-19, Fosco and his colleagues thought more people were being admitted to the emergency department with high blood pressure. Because blood pressure is a standard measurement when people are admitted to a hospital, so they compared the frequency of high blood pressure among admitted patients during the lockdown period with the three months prior to social isolation. They also compared this with the frequency of high blood pressure from March through June of 2019.

About 24 percent of the admitted patients during the isolation period had high blood pressure, the study found. That's significantly higher than the roughly 15 percent of patients in the three months before the lockdown period, and 18 percent during the 2019 months. Patients were admitted to the hospital during these time frames for similar reasons — including chest pain, shortness of breath, hypertension, and fever — so the study said these health issues likely did not cause the increase.

Rather, Fosco pointed toward increased stress over people having limited personal contact with each other, the exacerbation of family or financial troubles, and health worries, including needing to visit a hospital during a pandemic. "Changed behaviors [also] may have played a role, with higher intake of food and alcohol, sedentary lifestyles and weight gain," he told the ESC. He's now examining whether there are any changes in the blood pressure of admitted patients now that pandemic-related regulations in Argentina have relaxed.