COVID-19: Three million Australians advised not to stop high blood pressure medications

The estimated three million Australian adults on high blood pressure medication should continue to take their medicines as prescribed, despite claims some types of blood pressure tablets increase the risk of COVID-19, the Heart Foundation said today.

Some international researchers have suggested that the use of commonly prescribed ARB and ACE inhibitor medications can increase a person’s risk of infection, severe illness or death from COVID-19.

The suggested link between COVID-19 and these medications is based on the observation that they increase levels of the ‘ACE2’ enzyme in the body, the same enzyme that the coronavirus uses to infect the body.

However, Heart Foundation Chief Medical Adviser, cardiologist Professor Garry Jennings said at this stage, there is no evidence from people infected with the COVID-19 virus to confirm this theory and advises Australians to continue to take their medications as prescribed.

“Continue to take all your medicines, including ARBs or ACE inhibitors, as prescribed by your doctor,” Professor Jennings said.

The medications, ARB (angiotensin receptor blocker) and ACE (angiotensin converting enzyme) inhibitors are used to treat high blood pressure, as well as in cases of heart failure and in treatment following a heart attack.

“These medications are widely used and considered safe. They have important benefits in treating high blood pressure and in reducing the risk of illness and death in many chronic health conditions, including heart failure.”

More than three million Australians take anti-hypertensive medications, the equivalent to three in 10 Australian adults (hypertension is the medical name for high blood pressure). It’s estimated that more than six million Australians have high blood pressure (34% or 1 in 3) – a major risk factor for coronary heart disease, which is Australia’s single biggest killer.

Professor Jennings said stopping prescribed medicine could do more harm than good:

“The dangers of suddenly stopping your blood pressure medications are clear and well known whereas the interaction of these types of medicines with COVID-19 is hypothetical and unproven,” he said.

The Heart Foundation along with other international authorities is closely monitoring the emerging experience on COVID-19 and cardiovascular disease.

“It’s understandable to feel anxious when there are reports about possible harms from medications. But it’s important to talk to your doctor about any medicine-related concerns, including if you are thinking about stopping your medicines for any reason,” Professor Jennings said.

“It is also important to make sure your routine vaccines are up to date, especially as the flu season approaches.”

It’s recommended all Australians, especially if they are living with heart disease, to follow the advice from the Department of Health for preventing the infection and transmission of COVID-19.

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