Panic Attacks

Do Panic Attacks Affect Blood Pressure?

Micah Abraham, BSc

Written by

Micah Abraham, BSc

Last updated October 10th, 2020

Do Panic Attacks Affect Blood Pressure?

Panic attacks are the notorious physical anxiety events that in many ways mimic heart attacks. They strain your body, cause lightheadedness and difficulty breathing, and increase your heart rate to cause palpitation. This causes many people to worry about their blood pressure, and whether or not they need to be concerned about their blood pressure during a panic attack.

Living With Panic Attack Health Fears

Panic attacks involve so many physical symptoms that health fears are incredibly common. It can even create health anxiety. That's why it's so important to get your panic attacks under control.

Your blood pressure does increase when you have anxiety. Two different issues lead to the development of high blood pressure during an attack:

  • Adrenaline, which causes your heart to speed blood around your body.
  • Hyperventilation, which causes your blood vessels to constrict.

Both of these lead to tremendous pressure, and in some cases the appearance of severe hypertension. Those that go through panic attacks, they tend to experience fear over whether or not these attacks indicate that they are putting strain on their heart that could be deadly.

Can Panic Attacks Kill You?

Panic attacks, in a general sense, cannot kill you. There is nearly no scenario in which a panic attack can kill you, because panic attacks are not caused by physical problems, nor do they create any lasting physical damage.

For those in good health – especially those in good heart health – that means that in nearly every scenario imaginable you will survive each and every panic attack you may experience. It is conceivable that there is some incredibly rare issue that causes a complication, but as of yet, there is no known way that someone healthy will die from a panic attack unless that panic attack causes them to engage in some dangerous behavior.

However, panic attacks do increase blood pressure. Those that do not have good heart health are putting strain on their heart when they have high blood pressure spikes. But the reality is that even then it's extremely unlikely that panic attacks will lead to any health problems:

  • Most heart disease can be found with a simple doctor's appointment. If the heart disease is not present, or you are young with no history of heart disease, you have nothing to worry about.
  • If you do have heart disease, you should try to control your panic attacks as best you can, but note that even with heart disease a problem from panic attacks is very rare. When a high spike in blood pressure causes heart problems, it is usually not related to something like a racing heartbeat from anxiety.

Your body is designed to handle increases in blood pressure. Whenever you go for a run, for example, your blood pressure experiences a significant spike. Yet runners, of course, are in good health, and few people expect runners to experience heart attacks. The reality is that spikes in blood pressure at all ages and with all types of heart health are normal, and your body is designed to handle them.

Every day you go through these types of spikes regardless of your anxiety and every day you turn out fine. Your heart rate will always go back to your baseline, and your baseline is what's important for determining blood pressure and heart health.

The Importance Of Controlling Stress and Anxiety

Now, the caveat to all of this is that stress – especially long-term stress – does damage your body. Frequent panic attacks are unhealthy, especially if you do suffer from any disease, like heart disease, which is exacerbated by stress.

So while anxiety and panic attacks can lead to large temporary spikes in blood pressure, that isn't the concern. The concern is that living with anxiety is difficult, and living with stress in the long term is unhealthy. That's why it's important to make sure you take action to control your anxiety.

Questions? Comments?

Do you have a specific question that this article didn’t answered? Send us a message and we’ll answer it for you!

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Question:

Where can I go to learn more about Jacobson’s relaxation technique and other similar methods?

– Anonymous patient

Answer:

You can ask your doctor for a referral to a psychologist or other mental health professional who uses relaxation techniques to help patients. Not all psychologists or other mental health professionals are knowledgeable about these techniques, though. Therapists often add their own “twist” to the technqiues. Training varies by the type of technique that they use. Some people also buy CDs and DVDs on progressive muscle relaxation and allow the audio to guide them through the process.

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