Scientists say some high blood pressure medicines such as valsartan as well as some diabetes medicines could raise the risk of serious symptoms from COVID-19, the disease caused by the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus.
The medications are known as ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers and scientists say they may aid viral infection of cells by changing human cell shapes, leading to more severe sickness. Over 13 million Americans take these medications each year.
Scientists say the research does not prove that the medications cause more severe COVID-19 symptoms, but urge that the possible link should be studied further.
Researchers from the University of Thessaloniki in Greece and University Hospital Basel in Switzerland explained that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus infects people by binding to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) receptors. ACE inhibitors and angiotensin receptor blockers increase the number of ACE2 receptors on human cells.
The US Food and Drug Administration says some of the most commonly prescribed medications of these types in the United States are enalapril, valsartan, benazepril, losartan and quinapril.
The researchers found that the two most common pre-existing conditions among severely-ill COVID-19 patients were high blood pressure (23.7 percent) and diabetes (16.2 percent). The researchers added that gene changes in people with high blood pressure or diabetes can naturally lead to more ACE2 receptors on human cells.
The researchers suggested that people with high blood pressure or diabetes be monitored for COVID-19 infection more closely than the general public.
Dr. Tim Chico of the UK’s University of Sheffield said patients shouldn’t stop taking their medications.
“I strongly advise anyone on [these] medications not to stop or change these without discussion with their doctor,” he said. “This letter does not report the results of a study… it simply raises a possible question about whether a type of blood pressure and heart disease medication called ACE inhibitors might increase the chances of severe COVID-19 infections.”
“If a patient stops their medication and worsens to the point of requiring admission to hospital at the same time as we are dealing with an increase in COVID-19 cases, that would pose the patient a considerable risk and put further strain on the healthcare services,” he added.
Over 155,000 COVID-19 cases and over 5,800 COVID-19 deaths have been reported.
Valsartan and losartan were in the news last year when issues with carcinogen contamination led to recalls of the medications.