Medicines for high blood pressure and diabetes can increase the risk of serious coronavirus symptoms
People with high blood pressure and diabetes may be at higher risk for severe coronavirus symptoms because of their medications, scientists say.
According to a new research letter, certain medications for these health problems can change the shape of a person’s cells so that the virus can more easily infect them and cause more serious illness.
These drugs, called ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers, are taken by at least 13 million Americans annually.
Scientists not associated with the study say it is not a link between the drugs and severe COVID-19 – the disease caused by the virus – but a possible link needs further investigation.
It comes when the outbreak continues to flood the U.S., making more than 1,700 Americans sick, and killing 41 people in seven states.
Scientists said medications taken by at least 13 million Americans with high blood pressure or diabetes could increase the risk of a coronavirus patient developing deadly symptoms (stock image
Coronavirus binds to cells by attaching to ACE2 receptors, which are located on the surface of the upper respiratory cells. Pictured: A woman who tested positive with coronavirus is taken to the University of Nebraska Medical Center on March 6 in an isolation pod
Scientists say these drugs increase the amount of ACE2 on their cells, allowing more copies of the virus to ‘hijack’ cells. Pictured: A patient is shielded when they are placed in an ambulance outside the Kirkland Life Care Center. Washington, March 7
For the letter, published in the magazine The Lancet Respiratory Medicinethe team investigated how coronavirus clings to human cells to infect them.
Researchers from the University Hospital of Basel in Switzerland and the University of Thessaloniki in Greece explained that the virus binds to cells by clinging to a receptor.
These receptors, called angiotensin converting enzyme 2 (ACE2), are located on the surface of the upper respiratory cells.
Some with high blood pressure or diabetes should take medications that increase the amount of ACE2 they have on their cells to control their disease.
Among the most commonly prescribed in the U.S. are Accupril, Losartan, Lotensin, Valsartan, and Vasotec, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.
More than 134,000 people worldwide are infected and more than 5,000 become ill
The team then looked at other studies in coronavirus patients with pre-existing conditions.
They found that the most common in critically ill patients was high blood pressure (23.7 percent), diabetes (16.2 percent), and heart disease (5.8 percent).
And by studying how coronavirus and SARS, which are nearly identical, attach to cells in people’s bodies, they could figure out how blood pressure drugs could make this easier for the viruses.
They also added that people with diabetes and high blood pressure may be more at risk because of changes in their genes that cause them to naturally produce more ACE2.
“These data suggest that ACE2 expression is increased in diabetes and treatment with ACE inhibitors and ARBs increases ACE2 expression,” the authors wrote.
Consequently, the increased expression of ACE2 would facilitate infection with COVID-19.
“We therefore assume that diabetes and hypertension [high blood pressure] treatment with ACE2 stimulant drugs increases the risk of developing severe and deadly COVID-19. ‘
Health experts say that patients should not stop taking their medicines unless their doctor tells them to. Pictured: International travelers arrive at Los Angeles International Airport on March 12
The researchers suggest that patients with these pre-existing conditions are checked for the virus, even more so to the general public.
But some health experts warn patients not to stop taking their medicines and to talk to their doctors if they are concerned.
“This letter does not state the results of any study,” said Dr. Tim Chico, professor of cardiovascular medicine at the University of Sheffield in the UK. ‘
It just raises a potential question of whether a type of blood pressure and heart disease drug called ACE inhibitors could increase the chance of serious COVID19 infections.
“I strongly recommend anyone with heart medications not to stop or change them without talking to their doctor.
“If a patient discontinues and worsens his medication until the time of hospital admission while we are experiencing an increase in COVID19 cases, it would put the patient at significant risk and put further pressure on health services.”