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The Scary Links Between Hypertension and Anxiety

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
The Scary Links Between Hypertension and Anxiety

Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is blood pressure that consistently reads above 140 systolic and/or 90 diastolic. Hypertension is a serious medical problem, and slight increases in blood pressure seem to consistently result in greater risk of heart failure and aneurysms, along with an overall shortened life expectancy.

Hypertension and anxiety have a complex relationship, and most people are unaware of the ways that the two interact. Those with anxiety tend to think hypertension plays more of a role than it does. Those without anxiety tend to think hypertension is less meaningful.

High Blood Pressure is More Common During Anxiety Attacks

Hypertension can affect any individual, and it has several risk factors; however, it is quite common with those suffering from anxiety attacks, as stress and anxiety causes a rapid rise in blood pressure. 

It's important to monitor your hypertension. But it's also important to trust your doctor, and recognize that:

You're likely aware of the former. Hypertension is a natural part of aging and diet. It's something you should monitor and try to control, but it's also something that cannot always be controlled easily.

What you may not be aware of is that anxiety itself - a condition that is associated with extreme stress - doesn't always cause hypertension, even when you're anxious. That's because when a healthy person with normal blood pressure experiences anxiety for an extended period of time (like those with generalized anxiety disorder), the body actually adjusts your blood pressure levels to account for the anxiety. So while anxiety can cause hypertension initially, chronic anxiety is considered unlikely to cause hypertension after the body adjusts to it.

That doesn't mean that you're in the clear. Anxiety does cause rapid bursts of high blood pressure during attacks and when you haven't experienced anxiety for a while. That high blood pressure can potentially be dangerous, although it is almost always harmless. Similarly, the long term effects of stress from anxiety could have an effect on blood pressure years into the future, but it's difficult to separate that cause from diet and genetics.

Hypertension Causing Anxiety

The bigger question is whether hypertension itself can cause anxiety, and the answer is still somewhat complicated. Hypertension itself doesn't actually have symptoms. Rather, stress and anxiety that can cause rapid bursts of hypertension have symptoms, and these are often associated with the rise in blood pressure itself. For example:

All of these symptoms occur during periods of intense anxiety. They're actually symptoms of hyperventilation as well, which often occurs in those with panic attacks. So while in rare cases it's possible to experience some of these symptoms as a result of your hypertension, it tends to be fairly uncommon, and in general hypertension simply follows anxiety.

Hypertension Fears Causing Anxiety

It's also important to note that fear of hypertension can also lead to the development of an anxiety disorder and the overall fear of anxiety. Those who check their blood pressure regularly are extremely prone to this. Blood pressure changes throughout the day, and those who are always checking their blood pressure are bound to find several time periods where their blood pressure is high.

Similarly, those that have high blood pressure already may be more prone to panic attacks, because they have anxiety that their blood pressure might cause them health problems. Any change in the way their heart feels and their anxiety spikes dramatically, possibly leading to further high blood pressure and severe anxiety.

In both of these cases, hypertension is causing anxiety, but more in a secondary manner. Hypertension itself isn't causing anxiety, but worries about hypertension are.

How to Reduce Anxiety and Hypertension

Hypertension can be very serious, so start by talking to your doctor. Take their recommendations seriously and do everything that they tell you. Your doctor is the only one that can diagnose hypertension, as well as the cause of your hypertension, and give you more information on what you can do to control it.

After that, you need to engage in those activities and try to realize that your hypertension isn't going to cause any symptoms. As long as you follow the doctor's advice and keep your heart healthy, your look term outlook is still very good. If your doctor tells you that you do not have hypertension, you need to also realize that hypertension doesn't happen overnight. It's a slow process that occurs gradually and can be monitored with yearly doctor visits.

Article Resources
  1. Jonas, Bruce S., Peter Franks, and Deborah D. Ingram.Are symptoms of anxiety and depression risk factors for hypertension? Longitudinal evidence from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey I Epidemiologic Follow-up Study. Archives of family medicine 6.1 (1997): 43.
  2. Davies, Simon JC, et al. Association of panic disorder and panic attacks with hypertension. The American journal of medicine 107.4 (1999): 310-316.
  3. White, William B., and Laurence H. Baker.Episodic hypertension secondary to panic disorder. Archives of internal medicine 146.6 (1986): 1129. 
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