A concerning rise in blood pressure during the COVID-19 pandemic

A woman exercises outdoors while holding a set of dumbbells.

Actionable tips to improve your heart health from a pharmacist who focuses on cardiovascular conditions

February is American Heart Month, which is a good reminder to check your blood pressure if you haven’t done so recently. Based on what you find, you may want to make some lifestyle changes and focus more on your heart health.

A recently published study looked at blood pressure readings for nearly half a million people. Researchers found a rise in blood pressure among U.S. adults during the COVID-19 pandemic.1

For those with borderline high blood pressure, even a small increase can lead to increased risk for stroke, heart attack, kidney disease, and other health issues.

Factors contributing to higher blood pressure

The study mentions several factors that may be contributing to this increase. In conversations with patients, our pharmacists have observed many of these factors. These include:

  • Increased anxiety, stress, and poor sleep patterns.
  • Less physical activity with more people working from home and staying home.
  • Difficulty or hesitancy getting in touch with a doctor to have blood pressure checked or adjust medication therapy.
  • Decreased medication adherence (taking medication as prescribed).
  • Weight gain from eating more comfort foods high in salt, fat, and sugar.
  • Increased alcohol consumption.

Actionable tips to improve your heart health

Edward Dannemiller, a registered pharmacist in the Cardiovascular Therapeutic Resource Center at Express Scripts® Pharmacy, shared some simple actions you can take to show your heart some love.

  • Make a medication routine. If you currently take medication, develop memorable habits so you consistently take your medication as your physician has directed. Monitor your blood pressure regularly and get cholesterol screenings on a regular basis.
  • Get active. Just 10 minutes of physical activity daily can lower your risk of having a heart attack significantly. Aiming for 30 minutes a day lowers your risk even more. If you sit much of your day, take a walk on your breaks, and stand at your workstation part of your day if possible.
  • Watch your stress levels. Stress increases your risk for heart disease. Practice deep breathing to relieve stress, keep anger in check, and laugh more. Laughter helps your blood vessels relax and expand, keeping your heart working properly. Get enough sleep too, as it lowers stress and your risk of heart disease.
  • Stop smoking. Smoking damages blood vessels and can cause heart disease. Our pharmacists can help you find a smoking cessation program.
  • Develop heart-healthy eating habits. Stick with foods low in trans fat, saturated fat, added sugar, and sodium. As a rule of thumb, fill at least half your plate with vegetables and fruit and pick low sodium options.

In addition to taking your medication as prescribed, if you’re hesitant to go into your doctor’s office right now, Dannemiller suggests staying in contact with your physician through telehealth appointments, if available. Increased stress levels and changes in lifestyle habits during the pandemic may have increased your blood pressure and require adjustments to your medication regimen. There are also many free digital tools available to help with managing stress and taking medication at the right time.

It’s also important to monitor blood pressure at home. To get an accurate blood pressure reading, sit quietly for five minutes before testing and use a firm chair that supports your back with your arm supported on a flat surface. Daily monitoring is ideal. Our pharmacists recommend two readings a minute apart for accuracy, and to record these readings to share with your doctor.

These past two years have created new challenges for all of us. Our pharmacists are here to help. Whether you have questions about taking your medication correctly, how your medications are working, concerns about side effects, or even how to save money on your prescriptions, our pharmacists are here for you 24/7.

1 American Heart Association: U.S. adults’ blood pressure levels increased during the COVID-19 pandemic (December 6, 2021): newsroom.heart.org.

Posted date: February 22, 2022

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