Average blood pressure levels rose during the pandemic

A woman uses an electronic blood pressure-monitoring device
Credit: American Heart Association

According to a research letter in Circulation, the average blood pressure levels of more than 464,000 U.S. adults slightly increased throughout the pandemic. Researchers found systolic blood pressure (the top number) increased by 1.1-2.5 mm Hg between April-December 2020 compared to the same period in 2019. Average diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) increased by .14-.53 mm Hg. The data was collected throughout the U.S. between 2018-2020 as part of an employer-sponsored wellness program run by Quest Diagnostics.

The researchers also found that about one in four adults, 26.8%, in this study were reclassified as having elevated blood pressure or elevated blood pressure that required medication throughout the pandemic. During the same period, 22% of participants made blood pressure improvements. Examples range from adults requiring less blood pressure medication to reaching normal blood pressure levels after being diagnosed with elevated blood pressure. The authors underscored that even a 2-mm Hg rise in blood pressure is associated with an increased risk for premature death from stroke or heart disease among middle-aged adults. Therefore, they recommend ongoing blood pressure surveillance paired with public health programs that support
heart-healthy living to help adults mitigate long-term risks for heart disease.

The research was partially supported by the NHLBI.