High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, has been described as “a silent killer.” Most of the time there are no symptoms. But if you have the condition, it means that inside your body, the blood flowing from your heart down through the arteries is exerting too much force on the arterial walls. This extra (high) pressure leads to tears in the walls of the arteries, where fat and cholesterol collect. That leads to the formation of plaque that narrows and blocks the vessels, leading to strokes, heart attacks, and other serious diseases—and even death. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), high blood pressure might also put people with COVID-19 at higher risk for severe illness.
This is why your primary care doctor checks your blood pressure during an annual physical, or more frequently if you’re at risk for (or have) high blood pressure. But because of the pandemic, some people have avoided or delayed routine medical checkups, which translates into missed blood pressure checks.
And that is concerning to some doctors. “Maintaining a normal blood pressure is critical to good health,” says Aldo Peixoto, MD, a Yale Medicine nephrologist. “It’s what we call ‘primary prevention.’ We are trying to prevent the first heart attack, the first stroke, and the development of heart failure and kidney disease,” he adds. Treating high blood pressure without knowing a patient’s blood pressure numbers is like treating a patient with diabetes without tracking their blood sugar, he says.
Although doctors have been encouraging patients to self-monitor their blood pressure since before the pandemic, many are reluctant. As a nephrologist, Dr. Peixoto cares for people who have kidney disease, which is closely related to high blood pressure. Hypertension is the second most common cause of chronic kidney disease in the United States, and appropriate blood pressure control decreases the chances that kidney disease will progress to kidney failure.
“In a specialized practice like mine, pretty much everybody checks their blood pressure at home, unless they decline to, and there is a small group of patients who prefer not to self-monitor,” Dr. Peixoto says.
On the other hand, people who don’t see such a specialist—and aren’t even seeing their primary care doctor—may not check their blood pressure at all, he points out.