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Doctors urging patients to check blood pressure as pandemic stress, weight gain cause spike

Updated: Jun. 9, 2021 at 6:04 AM CDT
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AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - Amarillo physicians are urging people to check their blood pressure, as they believe stressors related to the pandemic may have caused a spike in blood pressure problems.

While doctors don’t think COVID-19 itself is causing a rise in blood pressure, they speculate an increase in stress and weight as a result of the pandemic may be to blame.

Health professionals are seeing more patients with high blood pressure, and for patients who previously had it, the condition appears to be less well-managed.

“There’s been a higher number of people with elevated blood pressure,” said Patricia Turnbow, board certified nurse practitioner at BSA CareXpress. “But mainly the ones with [already] high blood pressure are not as well controlled as they once were...because of the weight gain and sitting at home with nothing to do.”

Doctors are specifically concerned about many patients’ recent weight gain, as those overweight are more likely to have elevated blood pressure.

“The pandemic we know did cause people to pack on pandemic pounds and not be quite as out and active; gyms [were] closed and people gained weight,” said Dr. Rodney Young, professor and regional chair of Family and Community Medicine at Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center. “And we do know that weight gain correlates with increased salt sensitivity, which is a driver of high blood pressure.”

Healthcare professionals also speculate pandemic fear is causing this spike.

When people are scared, their flight or fight response is triggered and their blood vessels contract, making prolonged anxiety another culprit of this spike.

“Stress increases your flight or fight response and creates epinephrine, or adrenaline...and when the blood vessels see higher levels of adrenaline they tend to constrict and blood pressure goes up,” added Dr. Young. “It’s a higher pressure environment.”

Doctors call high blood pressure ‘the silent killer’ and encourage people to get it checked.

High blood pressure often shows no symptoms, but can result in a potentially fatal heart attack or stroke.

“We call high blood pressure the silent killer because for most people they don’t feel bad or have any symptoms even though their blood pressure is starting to rise and stay at unsafe levels,” said Dr. Young. “[With] high blood pressure, the risks are significant and they accrue to you overtime and it’s something where if you intervene earlier, you can greatly decrease your risk of having a heart attack or stroke or other sudden event.”

Dr. Young adds that people of all ages should check their blood pressure, as he is seeing more young people with this issue.

“We do see more young people that are now diagnosed with elevated blood pressure, even sometimes in pediatric age groups,” he said. “And those people have a significantly elevated risk as they continue to age. If they cannot modify the pressure and those risk factors, they are more likely to develop earlier vascular disease and have consequences from that.”

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