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AARHUS, Denmark — Another flu season is on the way. For people dealing with high blood pressure, that can mean worries about fatal complications like heart attack and stroke. A new study has good news for patients on certain blood pressure medications. Researchers in Denmark say ACE inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor blockers can protect the body against serious complications from the flu.

The Danish team finds these drugs, which are commonly prescribed to lower blood pressure, also reduce the death rate among patients hospitalized for influenza and pneumonia. The study examined more than 500,000 Danish patients admitted to hospitals across Denmark between 2005 and 2018.

“A little over 100,000 of the admitted patients took ACE inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers, and the study shows that fewer of them were put on a ventilator and that they had lower mortality rates than the hospitalized patients who took another type of drugs against elevated blood pressure, calcium blockers,” says Christian Fynbo Christiansen of Aarhus University Hospital in a media release.

What are ACE inhibitors?

Researchers say these drugs expand the blood vessels to lower pressure and help the heart work and pump blood easily. ACE inhibitors dampen an enzyme in the body which converts inactive angiotensin I hormones into active angiotensin II.

The active version of this hormone causes blood vessels to contract. This means if there is less angiotensin II, blood vessels relax and blood pressure drops.

Blood pressure medications and coronavirus

One of the major complications of this flu season is the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. There is still debate about how these drugs may help or hurt COVID-19 patients.

Study authors note there is a theory ACE inhibitors actually cause the body to become more susceptible to the virus. This assumption says hypertension patients taking the drugs lower their levels of ACE receptor genes, which causes the body to activate more on the surface of cells.

SARS-CoV-2, the virus causing COVID-19, uses its “spike” protein to attach to ACE genes and hijack human cells. The theory therefore assumes ACE inhibitors give COVID-19 more access to the human body.

Researchers are debunking this claim however, saying thousands of high blood pressure patients have COVID-19 and those taking ACE inhibitors are not having worse outcomes.

“We haven’t examined whether what applies to patients with influenza and pneumonia can be transferred directly to patients with COVID-19, but there is some evidence to suggest that ACE inhibitors have a protective effect against lung damage which we don’t see in patients who take other types of medicine to lower blood pressure,” Christiansen reports.

Of the 600,000 Danes with both COVID-19 and high blood pressure, nearly one-third take ACE inhibitors to treat their hypertension.

“The first studies find no correlation between ACE inhibitors/angiotensin II receptor blockers and COVID-19. However, further studies are needed using the good Danish registers.”

The study appears in the Journal of the American Heart Association.

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About Chris Melore

Chris Melore has been a writer, researcher, editor, and producer in the New York-area since 2006. He won a local Emmy award for his work in sports television in 2011.

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