A new study is offering reassurance to millions of patients who rely on valsartan and other prescription drugs to control their blood pressure, finding that these treatments do not appear to increase the risks associated with COVID-19, the novel coronavirus
Since COVID-19 emerged in China late last year, it’s become obvious that people with hypertension are among those most likely to develop potentially deadly complications should they become infected. That’s led to some speculation that widely used blood pressure medications, including ARBs and ACE inhibitors, might increase the severity or lethality of the illness.
To determine if this is the case, researchers at New York University Grossman School of Medicine analyzed medical records from 12,594 people who were tested for the coronavirus, including 5,894 who were infected. Some also had high blood pressure.
The research team looked at each patient’s likelihood of being infected, the severity of the illness among those who were infected, and the drugs each was taking before testing positive. They also ruled out differences that might be attributable to other factors, such as age and sex. Fortunately, they found no clinically meaningful differences associated with the use of blood pressure medications.
“I worry because I’ve received calls from many patients asking if they should stop their medicine or switch to something else, and some even stopped their medications without asking me,” Dr. Harmony Reynolds, one of the study’s authors, told The New York Times.
“The main message here is that there is no signal of increased risk, and that should be very reassuring,” she continued.
The findings were published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine.
In July 2018, pharmaceutical companies around the world began recalling three generic ARBs –valsartan, irbesartan, and losartan – after the first of several potentially cancer-causing nitrosamines was discovered in active ingredient manufactured by suppliers in China and India.
The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) eventually concluded that the tainted ingredients resulted from a change in production methods instituted roughly four years before the first valsartan recall. Thus, it’s likely that adulterated drugs had already been on the market for at least four years before the nitrosamine contamination was discovered.
Hundreds of plaintiffs have since filed valsartan lawsuits and other personal injury cases alleging ingestion of contaminated ARBS resulted in the development of cancer, including liver cancer, stomach cancer, small intestine cancer, esophageal cancer, prostate cancer, and pancreatic cancer.