Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure — and that alone more than doubles their odds of being hospitalized if they are infected with the Omicron variant of the coronavirus, a new study revealed.
This was true even in people who were fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID-19, according to researchers at the Smidt Heart Institute at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
“The take-home message is that avoiding infection is extremely important — even when the circulating viral variant is presumed to cause mild disease in most people,” said study author Dr. Joseph Ebinger, a clinical cardiologist at the institute.
People with high blood pressure (hypertension) who get COVID-19 should be aware of this heightened risk and should discuss antiviral therapy with their doctor, he suggested.
For the study, the researchers combed medical records to identify 912 people who were diagnosed with COVID-19 during the first Omicron surge between Dec. 1, 2021, and April 20, 2022, in Southern California. The patients were fully vaccinated with an mRNA vaccine and had received a booster shot. Of those people, 145 wound up in the hospital.
“We were surprised to learn that many people who were hospitalized with COVID-19 had hypertension and no other risk factors,” said senior author Dr. Susan Cheng, director of the Institute for Research on Healthy Aging at the Smidt Heart Institute. “This is concerning when you consider that almost half of American adults have high blood pressure.”
Other conditions — including chronic kidney disease, having had a heart attack or heart failure — greatly increased patients' risk of hospitalization after infection, the study authors said in a medical center news release.
“These findings were expected considering that these are chronic medical conditions that are well established to be associated with worse outcomes,” Ebinger said.
The team also teased out the effects of high blood pressure without those three conditions and found that the risk for hospitalization remained substantial.
It also increased with age and as more time passed between vaccination and infection. But high blood pressure still added more than twice the risk of other factors, according to the study.
The investigators also found that conditions such as diabetes and obesity that were found earlier in the pandemic to boost the risk of hospitalization were not as strongly linked with a hospital stay during the Omicron surge.
More investigation is needed to understand the biological processes that may lead to more severe COVID-19 illness in people with high blood pressure, the team concluded.
“Uncovering why hypertension is linked to COVID-19 could help us better understand how SARS-CoV-2 affects the body and provide clearer targets for prevention and treatment,” Cheng said.
The findings were published online July 20 in the journal Hypertension.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19 and underlying health conditions.
SOURCE: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, news release, July 20, 2022