ESC Says Continue Hypertension Meds Despite COVID-19 Concern

Miriam E. Tucker

March 16, 2020

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) has issued a statement urging physicians and patients to continue treatment with angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), in light of a newly described theory that those agents could increase the risk of developing COVID-19 and/or worsen its severity.

The concern arises from the observation that the new coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 causing COVID-19 binds to angiotensin-converting enzyme 2 (ACE2) to infect cells, and both ACE inhibitors and ARBs increase ACE2 levels.

This mechanism has been theorized as a possible risk factor for facilitating the acquisition of COVID-19 infection and worsening its severity. However, paradoxically, it has also been hypothesized to protect against acute lung injury from the disease.

Meanwhile, a Lancet Respiratory Medicine article was published March 11 entitled, "Are patients with hypertension and diabetes mellitus at increased risk for COVID-19 infection?"

"We...hypothesize that diabetes and hypertension treatment with ACE2-stimulating drugs increases the risk of developing severe and fatal COVID-19," said the authors.

This prompted some media coverage in the United Kingdom and "social media-related amplification," leading to concern and, in some cases, discontinuation of the drugs by patients.  

But on March 13, the ESC Council on Hypertension dismissed the concerns as entirely speculative, in a statement posted to the ESC website.

It said that the council "strongly recommend that physicians and patients should continue treatment with their usual antihypertensive therapy because there is no clinical or scientific evidence to suggest that treatment with ACE inhibitors or ARBs should be discontinued because of the COVID-19 infection."

The statement, signed by Council Chair Professor Giovanni de Simone, MD, on behalf of the nucleus members, also says that in regard to the theorized protective effect against serious lung complications in individuals with COVID-19, the data come only from animal, and not human, studies.

"Speculation about the safety of ACE-inhibitor or ARB treatment in relation to COVID-19 does not have a sound scientific basis or evidence to support it," the ESC panel concludes.

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