Mar 17, 2022

Can Anxiety Cause High Blood Pressure?

Butterflies in your stomach. Sweaty palms. Racing heart. We've all felt symptoms of anxiety at some point in our lives. However, the feelings of nervousness and restlessness usually fade away almost as fast as they came on. 

But for some, the stress and worry persist, causing a need for lifestyle changes and often medication as well  to manage its symptoms. 

A common question that arises for those living with anxiety is, "Will my anxiety cause hypertension down the road?". We put together this guide to look closer into the connection between the two. 

What is anxiety?

Anxiety is a natural reaction of fear, dread, and worry in stressful situations, like speaking in front of a big group of people or taking a major exam. It can cause you to feel restless and as if your heart may beat right out of your chest. Usually, it disappears quickly. 

However, if anxiety lingers on and gets worse, it can signify an anxiety disorder. Affecting around 40 million adults in the US, this mental health condition can cause interruptions to your daily activities, such as affecting your performance at work and school, and impacting personal and professional relationships. 

Anxiety Disorders

There are several different anxiety disorders:

Symptoms and causes of anxiety

People with anxiety often experience:

  • fast heart rate

  • hyperventilation (rapid breathing)

  • sweating

  • muscle aches and weakness

  • fatigue 

  • sleep issues

  • digestion issues

  • unable to focus on anything but current worry

  • constant feeling of danger, panic, nervousness, and worry

The causes of anxiety aren't entirely known, but factors such as genetics, brain biology and chemistry, stress, and environment can all play a role. People who experienced trauma in early childhood or adulthood, have a family history of mental disorders, or have certain health conditions like thyroid disease or arrhythmia, are at risk of developing anxiety. 

What is high blood pressure?

High blood pressure, also referred to as hypertension, affects almost half of adults in the US (47%). When your blood pressure is higher than normal for long periods without treatment, it can damage the heart and cause several other major health issues. 

Causes of high blood pressure

Certain health conditions and lifestyle choices put you at risk of developing high blood pressure, such as obesity, diabetes, unhealthy diet, lack of physical activity, pregnancy, alcohol and tobacco use, sleep apnea, and much more. 

Is there a link between anxiety and higher blood pressure?

Anxiety is the body's response to stress, causing a spike in certain hormones that can increase your heart rate and blood pressure temporarily. There isn't enough research to confirm that any anxiety disorder can lead to long-term high blood pressure. 

However, unmanaged anxiety that frequently causes rises in blood pressure can cause damage to the heart, kidneys, and blood vessels, much like unmanaged hypertension does. 

Anxiety, high blood pressure, and lifestyle 

Anxiety can also contribute to high blood pressure, through various lifestyle choices. Over 37% of people don't seek treatment for anxiety, causing them to deal with stress in unhealthy ways. Some lifestyle choices that are used to manage stress but can also lead to hypertension are:

Anxiety medications and high blood pressure 

If you are taking certain medications for your anxiety disorder, there's a chance they can cause an increase in blood pressure as a side effect.These medications include:

Discuss with your doctor if you currently have or are at risk for hypertension. Your physician will most likely want to monitor your symptoms, but call them right away if you notice a rise in blood pressure. 

On the other hand, some anxiety medications lower blood pressure by reducing stress levels. Beta-blockers, like propranolol and atenolol, prescribed for heart disease and high blood pressure, are sometimes used as off-label drugs to treat anxiety.

Final thoughts 

Though anxiety can cause an increase in your blood pressure, there is not enough evidence to prove it can lead to long-term hypertension. 

However, frequent spikes in blood pressure and unmanaged anxiety can affect your health and wellbeing. If you have concerns about your stress level and/or your risk of developing high blood pressure, you should talk with your doctor to find ways to improve your physical and mental health. 

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