We all know that feeling: the anxiety hits, you feel your muscles tense, your body temperature go up, maybe you start sweating.
You can feel your heart beating faster, or harder or both.
The physical symptoms of anxiety are often overlooked when discussing how anxiety disorders affect the people who suffer from them, but anyone who has had an anxiety attack feels — knows — that heart rate and blood pressure readings both go up when anxiety strikes.
But is this a transitory condition? Is it fleeting? Or can anxiety raise your blood pressure well beyond that temporary spike? Could your stress level lead to an increase in blood pressure, swollen blood vessels and increased risk factors for heart disease?
Worrying about whether the chest pain caused by anxiety could eventually lead to heart attacks is enough to give anyone anxiety.
And if you’re reading this, we’re guessing you’ve dealt with these feelings before. And like us, you may have wondered if long-term anxiety disorder can cause long-term high blood pressure.
Unfortunately, the answer isn’t a simple yes or no — the relationship between anxiety and blood pressure isn’t quite that simple. But there are valid concerns you should address if you suffer from anxiety.
Before we address these concerns, however, let’s start with the basics.
Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions which are similarly defined by intense negative feelings of anxiety, unease or panic.
There are subtypes of anxiety disorder, each of which can have overlapping symptoms — panic disorder, for instance, may include milder anxiety, while mild anxiety may occasionally include a sense of severe panic.
Restlessness, fatigue, muscle tension, difficulty sleeping, feeling regularly on edge or wound-up, increases in blood pressure, experiencing difficulty concentrating, patterns of irritability and uncontrollable worry are all symptoms.
And those symptoms should be felt most days for at least six months for a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD).
Anxiety’s true nature isn’t fully understood, but we do know that this mood disorder is caused by imbalances of brain chemicals.
There is no “cure” for anxiety, but we do have ways of treating it, which we’ll get to shortly.
But let’s talk about one symptom in more depth: blood pressure increases.
It is definitely the case that anxiety has an association with blood pressure, though it’s unclear to what extent that relationship is meaningful.
For instance, we know that people with anxiety do tend to have higher morning blood pressure spikes compared to those who do not suffer from anxiety — something that might have serious implications for your mental health, if your morning routine struggles.
The general consensus is that anxiety’s effects on blood pressure should be considered temporary, but over time many episodes of anxiety can still do damage.
For instance, one study found that there is an association between anxiety and hypertension over time.
The authors of that study recommended that early detection and management of chronic anxiety was key in preventing the onset of anxiety-based hypertension.
Hypertension over time can cause a variety of health and blood pressure related side effects, can lead to heart and kidney disease, and can cause irreparable damage.
There are several approved treatments for anxiety that you should consider, and in many cases it will be recommended that you employ more than one for the most effective anxiety management.
Let’s start with prescription medications, which are generally considered the go-to solution these days. Typically, the primary medication for treating anxiety disorders are actually antidepressants.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs are the most often prescribed, but other medications like SNRIs will sometimes be employed if SSRIs are ineffective.
There’s also therapy, which is frequently recommended as a parallel treatment with medication.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps anxiety disorder sufferers to recognize their disordered thought patterns, which may otherwise let anxiety control your life.
CBT can create coping strategies to mitigate future anxiety or panic attacks. For more, check out our guide, What Is Psychotherapy & How Does It Work?.
Healthcare providers may also ask you to address diet, regular exercise and even substance abuse or alcohol intake issues, which may be making your anxiety worse; addressing those issues could alleviate some anxiety symptoms, including blood pressure issues.
The link between anxiety and cardiovascular diseases may not be perfect, but it’s more than enough to tell us that anxiety isn’t good for your health, long or short term.
The next time you feel yourself experiencing symptoms of anxiety like a rapid heart rate, you may want to take note — and look into treatment.
If you’re ready to retake control of your daily life, you might want to check out our online counseling offerings.
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Kristin Hall is a board-certified Family Nurse Practitioner with decades of experience in clinical practice and leadership.
She has an extensive background in Family Medicine as both a front-line healthcare provider and clinical leader through her work as a primary care provider, retail health clinician and as Principal Investigator with the NIH.
Certified through the American Nurses Credentialing Center, she brings her expertise in Family Medicine into your home by helping people improve their health and actively participate in their own healthcare.
Kristin is a St. Louis native and earned her master’s degree in Nursing from St. Louis University, and is also a member of the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners. You can find Kristin on LinkedIn for more information.