Common blood pressure pills taken by millions of Brits could treat Covid-19, according to new research.
The ACE inhibitors and ARBS (angiotensin receptor blockers) improve survival rates – and reduce the severity of infection, say scientists.
The findings published in Current Atherosclerosis Reports contradict previous studies suggesting they fuel the coronavirus.
They are based on 28,000 Covid-19 patients. Those taking the hypertension medications were much less likely to die.
Lead author Dr Vassilios Vassiliou, of the University of East Anglia, said: “We found a third of Covid-19 patients with high blood pressure and a quarter of patients overall were taking an ACE/ARB.
“This is likely due to the increasing risk of infection in patients with comorbidities such as cardiovascular diseases, hypertension and diabetes.
“But the really important thing we showed was there is no evidence these medications might increase the severity of Covid-19 or risk of death.
“On the contrary, we found there was a significantly lower risk of death and critical outcomes, so they might in fact have a protective role – particularly in patients with hypertension.
“Covid-19 patients with high blood pressure who were taking ACE/ARB medications were 0.67 times less likely to have a critical or fatal outcome than those not taking these medications.”
Doctors sounded the alarm in March about a possible link between the drugs and Covid-19.
There had been concern arising from animal studies they might increase the body’s levels of a protein called ACE2. The coronavirus latches onto it to invade human cells.
Dr Vassiliou, who is based at Norwich Medical School, said: “We know patients with cardiovascular diseases are at particular risk of severe Covid-19 infection.
“But at the start of the pandemic, there was concern specific medications for high blood pressure could be linked with worse outcomes for Covid-19 patients.
“We wanted to find out what the impact of these medications is for people with Covid-19.
“We therefore studied the outcomes for patients taking antihypertensives – looking particularly at what we call ‘critical’ outcomes such as being admitted to intensive care or being put on a ventilator, and death.”
His team pooled data from 19 previous studies. They compared data from patients taking the drugs with those who were not.
Dr Vassiliou added: “As the world braces itself for a potential second wave of the infection, it is particularly important we understand the impact these medications have in Covid-19 patients.
“Our research provides substantial evidence to recommend continued use of these medications if the patients were taking them already.
“However, we are not able to address whether starting such tablets acutely in patients with Covid-19 might improve their prognosis, as the mechanism of action might be different.”
The most popular versions of the drugs are Ramipril, Losartan, Lisinopril and Candesartan, according to NHS data.
They were prescribed almost 65million times in England last year and cost the NHS more than £100m.
They are given to treat diabetes or high blood pressure. Around 10 per cent of people in the UK – some 6.6million – are estimated to take them regularly.