Anxiety and High Blood Pressure: Cause and Effect Or Unrelated?

Anxiety is a very common problem in society and affects anywhere from 2-6% of the population. It is a term used to describe several mental health disorders that are associated with fear, nervousness, worry and apprehension. Even though anxiety is a mental health disorder, it projects itself with physical symptoms.


What Causes Anxiety?

There are many causes of anxiety, but some are more prevalent than others. The main ones are listed below.

  • Lack of sleep. The constant feeling of tiredness can lead to poor decision making, resulting in anxiety.
  • Stress. Both physical and emotional.
  • Smoking
  • Alcohol abuse
  • Over eating
  • Substance abuse
  • Panic disorders. Many people with panic disorders develop anxiety, which can last 2-30 minutes and can be recurrent.

Anxiety many also be genetic. If more than one member of your family has anxiety, then the chances are high that you may also develop it.

Today a common cause of anxiety is childhood trauma, which will often manifest itself in adult life.


How Do I Know If I Have Anxiety?

Individuals who have anxiety will also tend to have other symptoms. These include,

  • Apprehension. You may look apprehensive or worried.
  • Palpitations. Your heart rate may increase and you might feel the pounding of your heart beat on your chest.
  • Profuse sweating.
  • Tremors or shaking spells.
  • Fidgeting.

Additionally, some people also complain of chest pains.

If you suffer from any of the above symptoms, you should refrain from having your blood pressure measured until you have claimed down. Otherwise you are likely to produce a reading in excess of your normal blood pressure score. This artificially high reading could lead to an incorrect diagnosis being made regarding other aspects of your health.


How is Anxiety Treated?

Anxiety may be treated with medications or some type of psychotherapy. Both work well and the treatment may last for 3-12 months or even longer.

There is now considerable evidence that exercise of any form can relieve symptoms of mild anxiety.

Experts also recommend performing home relaxation by taking up tai chi, yoga, meditation, aromatherapy or Reiki therapy.


Can Anxiety Cause High Blood Pressure?

Anxiety is like a stress response. Your body responds by releasing hormones that increase your heartbeat and raise your blood pressure.

Events such as going to the dentist, flying in a plane or speaking in front of an audience, make many people feel anxious. If this is you, you’ll probably experience a mild rise in your blood pressure, which may be about 10-20 mmHg above your normal systolic or 5 mmHg higher than your diastolic pressure.

This is normal and when this happens you have nothing to worry about. As soon as you calm down, your blood pressure will return to normal. It has no long term effect on your health.

But for a few people anxiety causes a far higher rise in their blood pressure which, if recurring, can have a serious impact on both health and lifestyle. From a health perspective, serious damage can occur to organs such as your brain, eyes and kidneys.

From a lifestyle perspective, sufferers can develop a number of associated problems including depression, social withdrawal, difficulty with personal and professional relationships, and substance abuse.

If you are experiencing frequent anxiety attacks, then it is important to seek professional treatment before any serious long term damage is done.

Anxiety associated hypertension can effect almost any person but it tends to be most common in children and young people. Events which have not been experienced before or tend to occur in the earlier stages of life, such as exams, can often trigger an anxiety attack.


White Coat Hypertension

Some people develop high blood pressure the moment they see their doctor or nurse. This condition is often referred to as “white coat hypertension.”

If you suffer from white coat syndrome but still attend a clinic to have your pressure read, it’s important that you try and relax before the reading takes place. Obviously this is easier said than done, but one solution may be to attend the clinic with a friend or partner. Their presence may help you to take your mind off the situation, thereby making you calmer when your blood pressure is measured.

If you cannot relax, you may need to return another day to have your blood pressure measured.

Ultimately if you are unable to control your doctor related anxiety, it may be best record your blood pressure at home and take the results to the clinic. Or ask someone else to.

If you do take your reading at home, make sure you know how to use the blood pressure monitor. A nurse, or someone from your local pharmacy, should be able to show you what to do.


How Do I Know If Anxiety Is Affecting My Blood Pressure?

Almost any person can be affected by anxiety and this can result in high blood pressure. But it is equally true that someone could suffer from both ailments independently of each other. It is important to establish if the two ailments are related. If it is assumed that anxiety is the cause of hypertension, then serious health issues which are the actual cause may go undiagnosed, and therefore untreated.

To be sure that your anxiety is not the cause of your high blood pressure, measure your blood pressure at home and record the readings. If you are relaxed and the pressure still remains high, then you actually may have high blood pressure.

Another way to know if anxiety is affecting your blood pressure is to wear a blood pressure monitor. This device can monitor your blood pressure throughout the day and record the readings. These reading can be analyzed at a later date to determine if the blood pressure is normal or elevated.

In the past certain medications used to treat anxiety like monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) have had an adverse effect on blood pressure. Today the availability of safer drugs means these drugs are not used as much.


How is Hypertension Treated in a Patient with Anxiety?

In general if you have just one or two episodes of anxiety that cause high blood pressure, no treatment is required.

Likewise, for sufferers of white coat hypertension whose blood pressure is normal outside the doctor’s surgery, no treatment is required.

However, if you have persistent anxiety related hypertension, then it is important to treat the anxiety. For many, once the anxiety is treated, the blood pressure problem ceases to exist.

For sufferers of anxiety and independent high blood pressure, obviously both conditions need to be treated.

There are many types of blood pressure medications and the type of medication you will be prescribed will also depends on how your anxiety is being treated. Anxiety treatments include,

  • Self Help. This could be reading books or participating in computer programs on an individual basis, or attending group therapy sessions.
  • Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).
  • Mindfulness and Applied Relaxation.
  • Medications.

Before you are prescribed any hypertension treatment you will need to undergo some investigations to make sure no damage has already occurred to your body organs. The doctor may order the following tests:

  • Routine blood work
  • An ECG to look at your heart rate and rhythm
  • Echocardiogram to look at the structure and function of your heart
  • Ultrasound to look at your kidney
  • An eye exam to ensure that there is no damage to the retina


Is There A Specific Diet For Anxiety?

While there is no specific for treatment of anxiety, experts in mental healthcare do recommend that people avoid or reduce their intake of caffeinated beverages, e.g. coffee, tea, colas.

Furthermore, sufferers should read labels and avoid buying products that contain ephedrine and other herbal compounds that can precipitate anxiety symptoms.

It is important to eat a healthy diet, avoid excess alcohol and stop, or at least reduce, smoking.

Making these changes is also likely to have a favorable effect on hypertension.



Hypertension is a serious condition which, if left untreated, can result in major health issues such as heart attacks, kidney disease, blindness and even death. Therefore it is imperative that it is treated.

When triggered by anxiety, the most obvious treatment for hypertension is the treatment of the stress itself. Depending on the person, this could range from non-invasive forms such as a change in lifestyle (diet, exercise, sleep etc.), to various forms of medication.

If treated early enough, the sufferer should be able to lead a normal life. However left untreated, the quality of life can be poor.

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