A 72-year-old Italian priest with COVID-19 died after he gave up a ventilator so a younger patient could have one. Older people are most at risk in this pandemic in Italy the average age of those who died was nearly 80.
But there was another striking similarity more than 75 percent of victims had high blood pressure.
A new study reveals a possible connection between blood pressure medications and worse cases of COVID-19.
COVID-19 becomes a killer when it overwhelms the lungs and chokes its victims. Now a Louisiana State University Health researcher says he has a hint why it happens in some patients. And it may be due to the medication they take to keep them healthy.
Doctors prescribe ACE-2 inhibitors to people with high blood pressure and heart disease. They increase levels of ACE-2 receptors.
The SARS-CO-V-2 virus which causes COVID-19 loves ACE-2 receptors. The virus binds to them to reproduce and grow in the lower respiratory tract. Once it grows, it triggers the release of cells that cause inflammation in the lungs.
Inflamed lungs leave patients gasping for breath as they develop pneumonia and respiratory failure.
Dr Gregory Mishkel is a NorthShore University HealthSystem cardiologist.
“It seems like patients who have heart disease who are on ACE inhibitors seem to do worse,” he said. “And the biological hypothesis is that by blocking the ACE receptor that these drugs do, there is up regulation where virus hooks onto the cells and enters the body more easily.”
Study authors conclude the virus enters the body and worsens, putting patients at greater risk for more severe disease, even death. But Mishkel said heart and blood pressure patients who are not as healthy or well managed on medication are at greater risk from COVID-19.
“It is a very contagious infection,” he said. “The sicker you are, the more chronic conditions you have, the more likely you are to not handle the virus itself. Whereas young healthy patients can handle it better and get be less ill.”
Despite the worrying study, doctors urge patients not to panic.
“It’s an interesting hypothesis and certainly something that will be explored,” Mishkel said. “But right now it would appear that this is mostly anecdotal evidence with very little in the way of experimental backup.”
So don’t experiment with your health by stopping your medication.
“There is probably more risk coming off the drug because your blood pressure will worsen, your heart failure will worsen,” Mishkel said.
As always get in touch with your own physician if you have concerns, especially if you are dealing with a chronic medical issue.