Hypertension has been dubbed “the silent killer” by the American Heart Association (AHA). This is because it quietly damages the body for years before symptoms develop. Even if it’s diagnosed, many of its complications can’t be reversed.
Recent research has also discovered that certain phone habits can worsen hypertension. In particular, talking on the phone for 30 minutes or more can increase blood pressure by up to 12%. This can be alarming since using our phones has been an inseparable part of our lives. In fact, worldwide smartphone usage has become even more widespread after COVID-19 broke out.
Most of us are now communicating, paying, buying, and even working through our phones. In this post, we’ll discuss hypertension and the scientific evidence on how phone habits can worsen it.
Hypertension, more widely called high blood pressure, is a common condition among adults. It happens when the pressure in the blood vessels surpasses 140/90 mmHg or higher. It’s treatable but can get serious if left unmanaged.
People with hypertension may not feel symptoms. The only way to know if one’s blood pressure is high is through a blood pressure check. There are signs, however, that can tell one’s blood pressure is high or increasing, such as:
- blurred vision or other vision changes
- severe headaches
- buzzing in the ears
- chest pain
- difficulty breathing
- abnormal heart rhythm
The most common medicines for hypertension are angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, angiotensin-2 receptor blockers (ARBs), calcium channel blockers, and diuretics. These are often prescription-only medications, so consulting a doctor is a must.
These hypertension medicines are often covered by insurance. In the United States, Medicare covers not only treatments but also screening and diagnosis for high blood pressure. Getting insured will significantly reduce the financial burden of being hypertensive. If unsure how to get insurance, check this Medicare Annual Enrollment survey.
Lifestyle changes can also help lower hypertension. These include eating a healthy, balanced, low-salt diet, maintaining a healthy weight, staying physically active, and quitting smoking. Monitoring blood pressure helps, too. The ideal blood pressure should be less than 130/80.
If left untreated and unmanaged, hypertension can lead to angina (chest pain), heart attack, heart failure, irregular heartbeat, kidney damage, and stroke. These complications are all life-threatening.
Previous Studies on Hypertension and Phone Usage
Several studies showed evidence suggesting a link between mobile phone usage and blood pressure levels. They asserted that exposure to the low levels of radiofrequency energy emitted by these devices, even briefly, could lead to an increase in blood pressure.
However, their findings weren’t consistent, which has left the connection between mobile phone use and the potential risk of hypertension in question. These discrepancies may stem from investigating different phone functions, including calling, texting, gaming, and other activities.
On the contrary, this recent peer-reviewed research published in the European Heart Journal – Digital Health focused on phone calls. Specifically, the researchers, led by Dr. Xianhui Qin, delved into the connection between initiating and receiving phone calls and the occurrence of high blood pressure in the general population.
The researchers examined 212,046 adults between the ages of 37 and 73 who did not have hypertension. Each provided self-reported information regarding their phone usage habits. This encompassed details about how they initiate and receive phone calls, their preference between hands-free or speakerphone mode, the amount of time they spend using their phones every week, and their phone usage history. All of this information was gathered through a self-administered digital questionnaire conducted at the beginning of the study.
They also specified that the “mobile phone users” in the study are only those who engage in making or receiving calls at least once a week. It was determined that 88% of the participants fell into this category, with an average age of 54 years old.
The researchers found that 7% of the participants (precisely 13,984 out of 212,046) developed hypertension during a median 12-year follow-up. Mobile phone users had a greater risk of developing the condition by 7% than those non-users. The risk increases by 12% if phone users use their phones 30 minutes or more in a week. The findings were similar for men and women.
The researchers emphasized that the study is observational in nature. This means it can’t determine causation, including whether lifestyle factors such as high-stress jobs might contribute to elevated blood pressure levels among the participants.
Nevertheless, they concluded that three “possible” factors may contribute to their findings, including:
- Deteriorating mental health;
- Radiofrequency (RF) electromagnetic radiation (EMR) emitted from phones; and
- The manner in which participants handle calls on their phones.
They stressed that the third potential reason is considered less likely to happen. However, based on their observations, some mobile phone users who opted for hands-free sets or speakerphones still exhibited higher blood pressure levels.
Finally, they recommended keeping mobile phone calls to under half an hour as a precautionary measure against the potential development of hypertension. Additionally, they suggested opting for hands-free phone conversations.
There are approximately 7.33 billion mobile phone users, constituting 90.97% of the global population in 2023. It’s estimated that about 1.28 billion adults are affected by hypertension, which stands as one of the primary contributors to premature mortality worldwide. Restricting phone calls to safeguard heart health, as recent research recommends, can help mitigate the mortality risk of hypertension.