New information emerges daily surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic including data about risk factors, prevention strategies, potential treatments, and causes of hospitalization. One risk factor linked to more severe COVID-19 disease is high blood pressure, a condition that affects more than a billion people worldwide and has the potential to cause a myriad of health issues if uncontrolled, including heart attacks and strokes.
Often considered a silent disease, high blood pressure — also referred to as hypertension — is one of the most common chronic conditions among Americans, and yet it also remains one of the most undiagnosed conditions. (Most of the time, people with high blood pressure experience no symptoms.) Therefore, every May the healthcare community recognizes High Blood Pressure Education month to raise awareness, encourage regular screenings, and promote early interventions.
An inside look at blood pressure
Blood pressure is a measurement of how much pressure is exerted against the walls of your blood vessels. It can fluctuate throughout the day depending on factors such as physical activity, stress, and even air temperature. Blood pressure is a combination of two numbers; the first number is the systolic measurement (pressure during a heartbeat), and the second is the diastolic number (pressure when the heart rests between beats). Normal blood pressure is considered less than 120/80. Guidelines for what constitutes hypertension vary: the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology recommend the diagnosis of hypertension to occur for anyone with readings above 130/80, while the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation and Treatment of High Blood Pressure indicates the diagnosis for hypertension occurs when readings are above 140/90.
Like many diseases, hypertension is the result of risk factors that are both unmodifiable (age, ethnicity, family history) and modifiable (such as physical activity, diet, and smoking). Additionally, the latest science has shown adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) can lead to an increased risk of hypertension. The hopeful news is that specific therapies addressing childhood adversity may modify future disease risks. Making changes to your lifestyle can help decrease your risk, yet many people will still be diagnosed with hypertension. The challenge for medical providers then shifts from prevention to management.
When the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology published their updated guidelines in 2017, nearly 80 percent of men over age 55 now had a diagnosis of hypertension. As a result, options for alternative care models need to be developed to assure all patients have access to care for hypertension.
A.I. and smart device coaching for hypertension management
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) has been used in the management of chronic diseases and has shown effective as a complement to traditional healthcare delivery models. It may also prove valuable in hypertension management.
Obtaining blood pressure readings has traditionally required a visit to the doctor's office or drug store pharmacy to use a stethoscope and/or blood pressure cuff. This makes it cumbersome to obtain accurate and frequent blood pressure readings which is critical in monitoring the condition and the effectiveness of your treatment plan.
Now, with smartphones and at-home or wearable devices, you can monitor your health conditions more frequently and in some cases, in real-time. What previously required in-person, one-on-one health coaching can now be done through technological interfaces, such as A.I. virtual assistants to help influence behaviors like diet, exercise and medication adherence. The accessibility works out well for patients who need or want more convenience and flexibility.
There is now a watch with a built-in cuff to help facilitate and promote more frequent blood pressure measurements. While the cost and size of this watch may be a hindrance for many, it is a sign of how technology and A.I. have the power to change and improve the way we manage chronic illness.
Evaluate your blood pressure
This May, make a point to speak to your clinician about high blood pressure. While many clinics across the country temporarily paused in-person visits, many are now re-opening for routine primary care visits with measures to protect against COVID-19. You could also consider purchasing a blood pressure cuff to use at home to share readings with your clinician during a telehealth visit.
Regardless of whether your blood pressure readings are normal or elevated, take a minute to check out doc.ai’s options for monitoring and tracking your risk factors. You can also learn more about your physiome and how it relates to your blood pressure here. Technology can and should be used to your advantage…and your wellness.