What is the link between anxiety and high blood pressure?
Doctors characterize anxiety as feelings of intense worry or fear. It causes many physical symptoms, including increased heart rate and shallow breathing. Periods of anxiety may also temporarily increase blood pressure.
Keep reading to learn more about the link between anxiety and high blood pressure, as well as how to treat both conditions.
Can anxiety cause high blood pressure?
Blood pressure may increase during a period of anxiety.
Anxiety causes the release of stress hormones in the body. These hormones trigger an increase in the heart rate and a narrowing of the blood vessels. Both of these changes cause blood pressure to rise, sometimes dramatically.
Doctors believe that anxiety is the reason behind white coat hypertension — a phenomenon in which some individuals consistently have higher blood pressure readings at the doctor's office than at home.
Anxiety-induced increases in blood pressure are temporary and will subside once the anxiety lessens. Regularly having high levels of anxiety, however, can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, and blood vessels, in the same way that long-term hypertension can.
A 2015 review of existing research indicates that people who have intense anxiety are more at risk of hypertension than those with lower levels of anxiety. As a result, the researchers conclude that the early detection and treatment of anxiety are particularly important in people with hypertension.
Living with an anxiety disorder, whereby anxiety occurs every day and interferes with daily life, can also increase the likelihood of behaviors that contribute to hypertension. Examples include:
- alcohol use
- lack of exercise
- poor diet
- tobacco use
One study reports a link between anxiety and unhealthful lifestyle behaviors — including physical inactivity, smoking, and poor diet — in people at risk of cardiovascular disease (CVD). Hypertension is one of the most significant risk factors for CVD.
Additionally, some medications for anxiety can increase blood pressure.
Can high blood pressure cause anxiety?
Having high blood pressure can trigger feelings of anxiety in some people. Those whom doctors diagnose with hypertension may worry about their health and their future.
Sometimes, the symptoms of hypertension, which include headaches, blurred vision, and shortness of breath, can be enough to cause panic or anxiety.
Anxiety and low blood pressure
Occasionally, anxiety works in the opposite way, causing a reduction in blood pressure.
This drop may occur because, during periods of intense anxiety, some people take very shallow breaths. The blood vessels then become wider, reducing blood pressure.
A 2011 study identified an association between the symptoms of anxiety and depression and a decrease in blood pressure, especially in people who have experienced a high level of anxiety symptoms over a prolonged period of decades.
This relationship also seems to work in both directions as low blood pressure, or hypotension, may sometimes cause anxiety and panic. Its symptoms can be similar to those of anxiety and include:
- blurred vision
Anxiety or blood pressure changes?
When symptoms occur, it can be difficult to distinguish between anxiety and changes in blood pressure.
Individuals should keep in mind that hypertension does not typically cause symptoms unless it is exceptionally high. If this is the case, emergency treatment is necessary.
Low blood pressure is more likely to cause symptoms, and these are often quite similar to the symptoms of anxiety.
People who are experiencing severe or recurrent symptoms should see their doctor. A doctor will be able to diagnose the underlying cause of the symptoms and can prescribe treatments for both anxiety and hypertension, if necessary.
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Treatment for anxiety
There are several treatment options for anxiety. Most people require a combination of treatments.
Several medicines can relieve the symptoms of anxiety. Different types of medication will work for different people. Options include:
- buspirone, an anti-anxiety drug
- certain antidepressants
- benzodiazepines, which are a type of sedative medication for short-term anxiety relief
- beta-blockers, which doctors use to treat hypertension
Working with a psychotherapist can often help people manage their anxiety symptoms.
Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) is one method that a psychotherapist is likely to try. CBT teaches people to change their thinking patterns to help them reduce anxious thoughts and worries.
Once individuals have learned techniques to manage their anxiety, they gradually expose themselves to situations that trigger the anxiety. In this manner, they become less fearful about these situations.
Making simple changes can go a long way toward reducing the symptoms of anxiety. Examples include:
- practicing deep breathing techniques or progressive muscle relaxation
- exercising regularly
- getting enough sleep
- eating a healthful diet and limiting caffeine intake
- avoiding alcohol, tobacco, and recreational drugs
- reducing stressors at home, work, and school, where possible
- facing up to problems rather than avoiding them
- replacing negative thoughts with more positive or realistic ones
Treatment for high blood pressure
Most people with hypertension will benefit from making lifestyle changes. Some people will also need medication.
Doctors often recommend one or more of the following:
- eating a healthful diet and limiting salt intake
- avoiding tobacco and recreational drugs
- limiting alcohol intake
- exercising regularly
- achieving or maintaining a healthy body mass index (BMI)
There are several types of medication for treating high blood pressure. These include:
- diuretics (water pills)
- calcium channel blockers
- angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors
- angiotensin II receptor blockers
- aldosterone antagonists
- renin inhibitors
The type of medication that a person needs will depend on several factors, including their general health and the severity of their hypertension. Some people may need more than one type of medication to keep their blood pressure under control.
When to seek help
Individuals who think that they may have anxiety, hypertension, or both should speak to a doctor. Those who have severe symptoms should seek immediate care as the symptoms could indicate a medical emergency.
Symptoms to look out for include:
- blurred vision
- difficulty breathing
- nausea and vomiting
- rapid heart rate
Both hypertension and anxiety are highly treatable conditions. A person with anxiety will not necessarily develop hypertension.
However, seeking help as early as possible can improve the outcome for people with either condition and reduce the risk of complications.
There is a link between anxiety and high blood pressure. Sometimes, a person with anxiety will develop hypertension, especially if they regularly experience intense anxiety.
Other people may develop anxiety as a result of having high blood pressure.
Treatment for one condition can often improve the other. Individuals who suspect that they have one or both conditions should see their doctor for diagnosis and treatment.