Staying Healthy During the COVID-19 Pandemic When You Have Hypertension
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Social distancing measures, lockdowns, and stay-at-home orders may be tough to follow, but they appear to be having an effect. So far, in many places in the country, the curve has been flatter than it might have been without such measures, and millions of Americans are seeing restrictions gradually being lifted.
Such success has been the result of high compliance by the public, but there may have been an unfortunate side effect to people trying to avoid emergency rooms and hospitals. People are experiencing strokes and heart attacks but may not be seeking help quickly. If you have hypertension and are at high risk for strokes, this is what you should know about getting care during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how to use tools, such as Lark for Hypertension, to manage your blood pressure to lower risk for strokes.
People May Be Staying Out of Emergency Rooms
A primary reason for working so hard to slow the spread of COVID-19 was to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems with infected patients. This has been somewhat successful, as many hospitals in the country have been able to handle their loads.
However, there appears to be a problem. Non-COVID-19 patients may not be getting the care they need. Emergency room doctors are noticing a drop of 40 to 50% in ER patients, including stroke and heart attack patients .
This may be because:
- They are afraid of becoming infected with the novel coronavirus.
- They are trying to selflessly allow others to use the ER, since they have heard so much about overcrowding.
The decision to stay home can have devastating consequences.
Consequences of Delaying Care
Uncontrolled hypertension is a major risk factor for heart attacks and stroke. A heart attack occurs when blood flow to the heart is blocked. A stroke happens when a blood clot or burst blood vessel blocks blood flow to the brain .
If you are having a stroke and heart attack, you need care immediately. Every minute you delay can lead to irreversible damage. The American Heart Association (AHA) and American Stroke Association (ASA) have set a target for stroke victims to get treated with anti-clotting factors within 60 minutes of paramedics' arrival .
Without blood flow or oxygen, brain or heart tissue can start to die within minutes. The longer the tissue goes without oxygen, the more damage there will be. Results can include partial paralysis, slurred speech, reduced heart function, and chronic pain.
Getting care within 60 to 90 minutes may make the difference between patients having a full recovery versus experiencing long-term complications or spending the rest of their lives in a nursing home.
Precautions Against COVID-19 in Hospitals and Emergency Rooms
Experts say that patients who suspect they are having a stroke or heart attack need to seek care immediately. Coronavirus or not, stroke and heart attack are just as dangerous as they ever were.
Emergency rooms and hospitals are doing their best to isolate COVID-19 patients from others. Patients who have COVID-19 or have symptoms of it may be separated before entering the regular ER. Patients may be given masks.
Going to the ER or hospital when you need to is crucial, but how do you know if you need to go? What if you need other care that is not an emergency? Telehealth can help you get care without leaving home. Phone and video appointments as well as emails can keep you in touch with your doctor for basic needs and questions.
Chest pain, fainting, pain in the arms, neck, or jaw, weakness, trouble breathing, trouble speaking, and a lasting headache or stomach ache are all signs that you may need immediate medical care .
An Ounce of Prevention‚Ä¶
What is better than getting the emergency care you need when you need it? How about not needing emergency care? If you have hypertension, lowering your blood pressure lowers your risk for stroke and heart attack . Even a 5-mm decrease in systolic blood pressure (SBP) can lower their risks by 34%.
How can you lower blood pressure? Lifestyle changes can help by about this much:
- Lose 5 kg: 5 mm Hg
- Reduce daily sodium consumption by 1,000 mg:
- Increase daily potassium intake to 3,500-5,000 mg per day: 4 mm Hg
- Healthy diet pattern: 11 mm Hg
- 150 minutes per week of aerobic exercise: 5 mm Hg
- Strength training 150 minutes per week: 4 mm Hg
Following instructions for prescription medications is one of the most important steps you can take for lowering blood pressure, but only half of patients with hypertension take medications properly most of the time.
Which of those will you choose? Whichever you want to work on, Lark for Hypertension is ready to help. Your Lark coach is available 24/7 through your smartphone with text-based conversations, instant feedback, and reminders and tips for healthy choices. Other tools include logging and tracking, reminders to take medications, and helpful summaries on trends and feedback on blood pressure.
Lark for Hypertension can also help you stay away from medical facilities because its care is remote. Your Lark coach is accessible on your phone, with no need to visit a live nurse or doctor for your daily updates, guidelines, or insights on blood pressure.
Staying healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic is the goal, but there is more to staying healthy than avoiding COVID-19. It is just as important to seek medical treatment immediately if you are having an emergency such as heart attack or stroke. If you have hypertension, lowering your blood pressure reduces your risk of needing a hospital or ER. Lark can help you make small but effective changes that can turn into habits for a lower blood pressure and better overall health.
- Crouch M. Adults with Serious Conditions Are Avoiding Emergency Rooms Because of COVID-19. AARP. April 22, 2020. https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/er-care-during-covid-19.html
- Healthline. Stroke treatment and recover timeline: "Time is brain." Reviewed June 7, 2019. https://www.webmd.com/stroke/stroke-symptoms-timeline
- Target: Stroke: Time lost is brain lost. American Heart Association and American Stroke Association. 2010. http://stroke.org/idc/groups/heart-public/@wcm/@hcm/@gwtg/documents/downloadable/ucm_308277.pdf
- American Stroke Association. https://www.stroke.org/en
- Chobanian et al. Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure. Hypertension. 2003;42:1206–1252.