Blood pressure readings jumped for many during the pandemic

Blood pressure measurements of nearly a half-million adults saw statistically significant increases in 2020, compared with 2019, according to a new research letter in the journal Circulation. A Northern Virginia doctor has advice for everyone to protect themselves from risk.

Do you know your numbers?

“If you don’t know what your blood pressure is, or haven’t known what it is in the last two years, I would say find a way to get it checked,” said Dr. Ameya Kulkarni, an interventional cardiologist with Kaiser Permanente in Tysons, Virginia.

“We can certainly treat blood pressure, and we can prevent the bad things that happen when somebody’s blood pressure is elevated. But the first step to doing all that is figuring out whether or not you have an elevated blood pressure,” he said.

Dr. Amey Kulkarni is an Interventional Cardiologist at the mid-Atlantic Permanente Medical Group with an office in Tysons, Virginia. (Courtesy Kaiser Permanente)

Numbers of factors can have an impact on blood pressure readings. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has tips to help ensure getting a correct reading.

Historically, 140 over 90 was considered the magic number — where above or below that was considered bad or OK.

But, high blood pressure should be treated earlier with lifestyle changes and in some patients with medication at 130 over 80 rather than 140 over 90 according to guidance from the American Heart Association and the American College of Cardiology — particularly if they have other risk factors that make their risk of having a heart attack or stroke higher.

“Even if you’re in that range, where you’re not a perfect 120 over 80, but you’re not yet in the hypertensive phase, that is also a call to action to improve your diet and your exercise to try to get that number down,” Kulkarni said.

Some recommendations include:

  • Get up and take a walk: “It’s amazing how much that 20 minutes of exercise a day can do to reduce your blood pressure.”
  • Be salt wise: Kulkarni believes everybody, regardless of what their blood pressure is, should pay attention to how much salt they take in. “To adjust the amount of salt you eat in your diet, read labels to make sure that you’re not getting more than 2 grams of salt in a day; that’s 2,000 milligrams of salt in a day,” he said. “That’s an easy thing that really all of us can do to reduce our risk of getting hypertension.
  • See your doctor: “If your blood pressure is high, go talk to a doctor because for some, no matter what we do in terms of diet and exercise, we won’t be able to get the number down without the assistance of medication.”

    Kulkarni has some tips for how people can avoid high blood pressure,

High blood pressure over time increases your risk of stroke; it can increase the risk of problems with your eyes and risk of blindness. It can affect the blood vessels in your head and neck; it can affect your heart, kidneys, gut, the circulation to your legs — basically any part of your body can be negatively affected by chronic hypertension.

“It is one of the most powerful factors in our lives that we can change to reduce our risk, not just of dying, but also of having these bad things happen to us like heart attack, stroke, kidney failure and on and on,” Kulkarni said.

Kristi King

Kristi King is a veteran reporter who has been working in the WTOP newsroom since 1990. She covers everything from breaking news to consumer concerns and the latest medical developments.

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