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Does Anxiety Cause High Blood Pressure?

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Updated June 06, 2014

Depressed woman with head in hands
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Question: Does Anxiety Cause High Blood Pressure?
Answer:

Yes. Also, no.

Anxiety, or stress, is linked to temporary increases in blood pressure, but not to chronic high blood pressure. This is true even in patients who suffer from chronic anxiety disorder.

Periods of anxiety trigger the release of hormones that cause increased heart rate and decreased blood vessel diameter, both of which lead to increased blood pressure. The effect of stress on short term blood pressure can be dramatic, leading to mean arterial pressure increases of 30%-40%. These changes are short lived, though, with heart rate, blood vessel diameter, and blood pressure returning to normal as the hormones are eliminated.

People with chronic anxiety disorders do not have chronic blood pressure increases as a result of their anxiety. In these patients, the nervous and cardiovascular systems seem to reset their normal point to account for the chronic increase in stress hormones. Just as patients without anxiety disorders have periods of stress, people with chronic anxiety disorder also have periods of higher anxiety, and their blood pressure responds similarly during these times.

The blood pressure impact of stress is still a cause for concern, though, which is why anxiety and stress are often listed as a cause of high blood pressure. Repeated, short bursts of elevated blood pressure can be as damaging as chronic blood pressure elevations. The damage that occurs to the blood vessels, heart, and kidneys is very similar in these two different situations.

Regardless of whether the damage happens in a series of short bursts or over time, it is still cumulative, and the effects of both types of blood pressure elevation are the same – increased risk of organ damage, heart attack, strok, and death.

Deciding how to treat blood pressure in people with underlying stress or anxiety problems is complicated. Some of the medicines complement each other, while others can work against one another. If you experience chronic stress, it is best to see a doctor. He or she can help you decide which course of treatment best meets your needs.

Sources:
1. Serdner, GH, et al. Effect of anxiety and depression on blood pressure: 11-year longitudinal population study. Br J Psychiatry. 2008 Aug;193(2):108-13.

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