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The Role of Stress in High Blood Pressure

Thursday 8 October 2020
High Blood Pressure
6 minute(s) read
Dr..Nick Ho

Medically reviewed by

Dr. Nick Ho, MD

on 10 November 2020

Table of Contents

I. Stress and the Body

II. Symptoms of Stress

III. The Effect of Long-Term Stress

IV. The Dangers of High Blood Pressure

V. Treatment

How Stress Affects the Body

Stress plays a major role in the development of high blood pressure. Everyone battles stress in their work and social life, so it is important to keep an eye on the effect of stress on your body. Stress is not solely responsible for high blood pressure (HBP), but it contributes to HBP risk factors like poor diet and excessive alcohol consumption.

When we are stressed, our body produces stress hormones, called cortisol and adrenaline, and secretes them into the bloodstream. These hormones cause the blood vessels to constrict and increase the amount of blood to the body's core. This phenomenon is known as the fight or flight response.

In the modern world, we are typically not faced with many situations where we have to flee or confront a predator, but our bodies still react this way. Chronic stress can cause long-term problems in our bodies and increase the risk of high blood pressure and other health problems. Your doctor may prescribe medications such as Toprol XL (metoprolol XL), Bumex (bumetanide), Benicar (olmesartan), and Aldactone (spironolactone). Read on to learn more about stress and its effects on the body. [1]

a man holding his head in stress

What are the Most Common Symptoms of Stress?

Stress can present itself differently in everyone. Some people experience chronic stress for so long, and they may be unaware their life is being affected. Stress can cause problems all over your body, so it is essential to keep an eye on your behavior differences.

Physical symptoms:

  • Low energy
  • Headache
  • Upset stomach
  • Insomnia
  • Clenched jaw and grinding teeth
  • Ringing in the ear
  • Cold or sweaty hands and feet
  • Frequent colds and infections

Emotional symptoms:

  • Avoiding others
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • The urge to take control of every situation
  • Low self-esteem
  • Difficulty relaxing
  • Easily agitated or moody

Behavioral symptoms:

  • Procrastinating
  • Avoiding responsibilities
  • Changes in appetite (overeating or undereating)
  • Nail-biting
  • Fidgeting
  • Pacing
  • Increased use of alcohol, drugs, or cigarettes

Cognitive symptoms:

  • Poor judgment
  • Forgetfulness
  • Lack of organization
  • Being pessimistic
  • Constant worrying
  • Racing thoughts
  • Inability to focus [2]

The Effect of Long-Term Stress

Along with blood pressure changes, there may be several consequences of chronic stress. When stress is present every day in a person’s life, you may experience:

  • Menstrual problems
  • Obesity and other eating disorders
  • Acne, psoriasis, and eczema
  • Permanent hair loss
  • Stomach problems like ulcerative colitis, gastritis, and gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Cardiovascular problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attacks, stroke
  • Sexual dysfunction like premature ejaculation in men and a loss of sexual desire in men and women [2]

a. High Blood Pressure and Stress

High blood pressure may not sound too dangerous, but blood pressure is typically the first warning sign of other health problems that may occur in the future. Blood pressure is the force of blood on the arterial walls that carries the blood away from the heart. If you have high blood pressure, your arteries' pressure is much higher than it should be.

You may know you are experiencing chronic stress, but you may not be aware of your blood pressure. HBP does not come with many symptoms, which makes it incredibly dangerous. You may be experiencing HBP for months or even years and not know. The American Heart Association reports that half of the United States population over 20 years old have high blood pressure and do not even know it.  It is essential to get your blood pressure checked regularly to ensure you are not at risk for cardiovascular problems. [3]

a stressed-looking man putting his hands in front of his face

The Dangers of High Blood Pressure

Stress and HBP mirror each other and can quietly damage the body over many years. If you do not get control of your blood pressure, it can become deadly. Some possible complications of high blood pressure can include:

Arterial damage: When arteries are healthy, they are flexible, strong, and elastic. If they are in good condition, they supply the organs with oxygen and nutrients. When HBP is present, they can damage the arterial lining and create tiny damaged spots. Fats can begin to accumulate in the arteries' damaged areas, leading to narrowed arteries, which inhibits proper blood flow. These arteries can become weakened over time, and a bulge can form in the walls (aneurysm). This bulge may rupture and lead to life-threatening internal bleeding.

Eye damage: There are several tiny blood vessels that supply blood to the eyes. Blood pressure can affect these vessels as well and lead to several ocular problems. These problems may include fluid buildup under the retina, damage to the retina, and nerve damage. All of these complications can lead to blurred vision or a complete loss of vision.

two people pressing their faces together, their eyes next to each other

Heart damage: If the arteries are narrowed for a long time, the heart may not be receiving enough blood. If the heart is working harder to pump blood, it can lead the heart's left ventricle to thicken and enlarge. This greatly increases your risk of heart attack, heart failure, or cardiac death. You may also experience coronary artery disease if blood cannot flow freely to the heart, leading to chest pain, irregular heart rhythms, or heart attack. [4]

Brain damage: High blood pressure affects not only the heart but all blood vessels. The brain also relies on the proper blood supply, which can result in stroke and TIA. TIA (transient ischemic attack) is a mini-stroke with a temporary disruption of the blood to the brain. A mini-stroke is usually a warning sign of a more serious stroke in the future. If you suffer long-term from high blood pressure, you are also at a greater risk of dementia because of the brain's lack of blood.

Kidney damage: The kidneys are responsible for filtering waste from the blood and body. If HBP damages the blood vessels, they may not be able to get waste to the kidneys and accumulate waste in the blood. This can lead to kidney failure and kidney scarring. [4]

Treatment Options for High Stress

If stress plays a large role in your life, it is essential to find ways to limit your stress and anxiety before serious health problems occur. When dealing with chronic stress, it may seem like an impossible battle to fight, but you can always take baby steps. It is important to give yourself enough time to get things done and manage your time. If you overextend yourself, you are bound to feel stressed out. It may also be helpful not to promise too much and say no to things that are not a high priority. This way, you can shorten your to-do list and have more time to relax and decompress. [1]

a chalk drawing on concrete that says ‘you got this’

Once you cut out needless stressors in your life, you can visit your doctor to determine your blood pressure. If your blood pressure is still high, you may need to get on diuretics, such as Aldactone (spironolactone), Bumex (bumetanide), and Triamterene/HCTZ. Diuretics (water pills) increase urination frequency and limit the amount of sodium in the veins, which lowers your blood pressure. [5]

Your doctor may also prescribe beta-blockers or angiotensin receptor blockers. Beta-blockers like Toprol XL (metoprolol XL) treat high blood pressure by blocking epinephrine (adrenaline). These drugs help the heartbeat slowly and with less force. Benicar (olmesartan) is an angiotensin receptor blocker or ARB that will also allow greater blood circulation in the body. [5]

The content provided in this article is based on thorough research and in some cases, reviewed by a medical professional. Our goal for the information is to provide helpful, general health informational. It is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice.