Hypertension among most common features of emergency hospital visit during COVID-19 lockdowns, says study
The researchers behind this study reveal that the compulsory lockdown period was linked to a 37 percent increase in the odds of having hypertension in patients visiting the hospital’s emergency department
As lockdowns, social distancing and stay-at-home orders were implemented all over the world, people were advised to avoid hospital visits unless absolutely necessary and to go for online consultations with doctors instead of going for in-person visits. Such measures were taken to prevent the risks of contracting the infection while in the emergency room - for both patients and healthcare workers - and also to free up resources to serve COVID-19 patients better.
While these measures worked to a large extent, there were some obvious fallouts. A study in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology points out, for example, that hospitals have reported a decrease in the number of patients attending emergency departments with heart attacks and cerebrovascular accidents. It’s likely that the fear of contracting COVID-19 is leading to delays in hospital visits and, in turn, worsening of conditions. This is also the reason why healthcare professionals around the world have repeatedly insisted that other life-threatening conditions should not be forgotten while we deal with COVID-19 .
Hypertension during the COVID-19 pandemic
But what about the management of chronic diseases that often lead to these life-threatening conditions, like hypertension? How has the pandemic affected people with these health issues? According to a study in the Journal of Human Hypertension published in May 2020, blood pressure and blood glucose levels are two things people with comorbidities must keep a regular eye on, particularly since research shows that those with hypertension and diabetes have a higher risk of complications due to COVID-19 .
New research presented at the 46th Argentine Congress of Cardiology (SAC) suggests that the situation may be more difficult than previously thought of. The researchers behind this study, who are based out of the Favaloro Foundation University Hospital, Buenos Aires, reveal that the compulsory lockdown period was linked to a 37 percent increase in the odds of having hypertension in patients visiting the hospital’s emergency department. This suggests that social isolation and lockdowns have exacerbated hypertensive symptoms among both people who had the condition before the pandemic and those who didn’t.
Rise in hypertension patients
To test if there was indeed a significant rise in hypertension patients, the researchers observed the blood pressure and other markers of health among all patients above the age of 21 years who visited or were admitted to the hospital between 20 March and 25 June (the lockdown period in Argentina). All the data was collected and then compared with those from three months prior to the lockdown and also the same time period in 2019. The study included 12,241 patients in all, 45.6 percent of whom were women. Of these, 1,643 patients were admitted to the emergency department.
The researchers found that apart from hypertension, the most common causes of hospital admission were chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, abdominal pain, fever and cough. The number of patients admitted was 56.9 percent less than during the same three months in 2019 (3,810 patients) and 53.9 percent lower than the period prior to the lockdown (3,563 patients) - indicating that more people avoided visiting the hospital unless absolutely necessary.
The researchers also found that 23.8 percent of patients (391 patients) admitted to the emergency department had high blood pressure, which was a significantly higher percentage when compared to the other periods evaluated in the study. During the same time period in 2019, the percentage of patients admitted due to high blood pressure was 17.5 percent, while it was just 15.4 percent in the three months immediately before the isolation. The researchers suggest that this sudden spike in hypertension could, in part, be caused due to the increased stress during the pandemic. Isolating from others, limited contact with people, financial and familial difficulties are all likely to have led to changed lifestyle behaviours - including higher intake of food and alcohol, lack of exercise and weight gain.
They also pointed out that the patients are also likely to have experienced a spike in stress levels as they were being transported to the hospital since travel restrictions, presence of police for security and other changes observed during the trip could have intensified feelings of alienation and isolation. The study concluded that since better blood pressure control is associated with reduced risks of heart attacks, strokes and severe COVID-19 , it’s necessary that people take preventive measures against hypertension and monitor their blood pressure more frequently to avoid complications.
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