More people experienced high blood pressure in response to the COVID-19 pandemic compared to before, according to new research from chronic care management company Livongo.
The study looked at the proportion of Livongo members who had high blood pressure before and during the pandemic, specifically covering the time between mid-September of 2019 and mid-August of 2020.
The data does not support a direct cause-and-effect relationship between specific events related to the COVID-19 pandemic and an increased proportion of people with high blood pressure, but a correlation does exist, according to Livongo.
As the pandemic progressed in the U.S., so did the percentage of Livongo members with high blood pressure, the results show.
Up until January of this year, the average percentage of members with high blood pressure was 62%.
However, by the end of January, when the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was announced in the U.S. and quarantining began in Wuhan, China, the average percentage of members with high blood pressure increased to 67%.
By March 23, the median date of lockdown orders in the U.S., 64% of members had high blood pressure.
In early April, the percentage reached a peak of 68%, which correlates with the April 3 release of COVID-19-related unemployment figures and the first time that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that everyone wear masks in public.
The proportions have gradually declined since then but still remain higher than pre-pandemic levels. The last measurement in the study took place in early August and showed that 65% of members have high blood pressure.
The purpose of the study was to understand how the pandemic and its behavioral health implications affected members living with hypertension, Livongo said.
While stress and anxiety don’t cause hypertension, those feelings can cause temporary spikes in blood pressure, according to the Mayo Clinic. In addition, when people feel anxious or stressed they are more likely to smoke, overeat and consume alcohol, which can also lead to high blood pressure.
During late June, 40% of U.S. adults struggled with mental health or substance use, with 31% reporting they dealt with anxiety or depression, according to a CDC report.
To gather data, Livongo took participant blood pressure readings from its Applied Health Signals platform and created weekly averages.
High blood pressure was defined as a systolic blood pressure of 130 mmHg or higher or diastolic blood pressure of 80 mmHg or higher.
THE LARGER TREND
People living with hypertension have a heightened risk for serious illness, hospitalization and death from COVID-19.
In fact, data suggest that hypertension is the most prevalent comorbidity among patients admitted with COVID-19. It's present in 30%–49% of them, according to a report in the Journal of Human Hypertension. The report also indicates that hypertension is connected to poorer outcomes of COVID-19 cases.
Livongo plans to continue tracking members’ blood pressure in relation to COVID-19 through its National Blood Pressure Tracker.
It will also begin examining blood pressure levels at state and county levels to see how regional policies affected health indicators.
“Moving forward, our goal is to use these findings to help inform policymakers, employers and health plans on how to better address overall health through challenging times,” Livongo said in a statement.
Livongo recently made news for merging with Teladoc in an $18.5 billion deal. The two companies are coming together under the Teladoc name to offer more comprehensive insights into preventative care since the companies will be integrating Livongo’s coaching services within Teladoc’s virtual care network.