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Can Anxiety Cause High Blood Pressure?

I have to confess, I didn’t even know what a gasket was until I Googled it. I was learning different things while the rest of the world was learning about the things that make our lifestyles possible. Still, a failed mechanical seal between parts is an accurate, if horrifying, metaphor for having a stroke, which is one of the worst-case end-point scenarios of hypertension (high blood pressure), the other being a heart attack.

The Mechanics Of Blood Pressure Control Or The Lack Thereof

Your blood circulates with enough force to deliver oxygen to everywhere in your body. The walls of your arteries are somewhat elastic in that they can rebound by sudden rises in the loads passing through them, like what happens when your heart races, causing pressure from the inside of the blood vessels. Another mechanism, vasoconstriction, causes the walls to tighten up, which puts pressure on the blood within from the outside. The body, in its brilliance, strikes a perfect balance that is the result of a complicated cooperation between heart rate and elasticity of the vessel walls, as well as being influenced by hormones, enzymes, and many other things tiptoeing through your circulation. If any of these go out of whack, all of the others will be affected. A loss of synchronization of all of this cooperation can result in a long list of disasters, minor and major. Luckily, there is a generous range of variation allowed in this system, so seldom is anything even noticed.

Enter Anxiety: What Is It And How Does It Relate To Hypertension

Anxiety is a condition that alters a person’s ability to deal with what is happening around or to him or her. It is a response originally related to the survival response of flight-or-fight, the failure of which causes neither—no flying and no fighting. It’s basically a condition where adrenaline is unfulfilled and causes mayhem instead. The heart beats faster (increased blood pressure from inside the blood vessels) and the walls of the arteries constrict (increased blood pressure from outside). This double whammy can be dramatic, causing the sensations of palpitations, which further worsens the anxiety, such that a vicious cycle begins. Hyperventilating will alter your blood pH, which means all of your chemicals which you use to live are less effective. But as explained above, there is a generous range of variation allowed in the system, so as bad as all of this sounds, no one is likely to drop dead from anxiety.

The Difference Between Temporary Spikes In Blood Pressure And Real Chronic Hypertension

It is easy to see, however, how anxiety can raise your blood pressure, which is called hypertension. Hypertension as a disease is different, though, because it is hereditary, not panic-induced, and it is chronic. The hypertension you get from anxiety is not hereditary, but reactive, and it is temporary. Hypertension the disease bangs up the insides of your blood vessels, causing inflammation that can even impact your buildup of cholesterol plaque. If enough damage is done, the blood vessels will fail, hence the metaphor of “blowing a gasket.” Strokes, heart attacks, transient ischemic attacks, loss of vision, erectile dysfunction, and kidney failure can all result from chronic hypertension. But chronic means all the time. The hypertension anxiety causes is only sporadic, which your body is quite capable of tolerating without damagei.

Up to a point.

At what point are these sporadic rises in blood pressure frequent enough to blend together into a chronic barrage of damaging events? Thankfully, it’s a pretty extreme point. This means that, NO, anxiety typically does not cause damaging high blood pressure, but if a person has extreme, constant, unremitting anxiety driving his or her heart, constricting the blood vessels, and altering the pH chemistry of the body, then, YES…at some extreme point…this can happen. This is rare, and the bottom line is that most people will want to treat their anxiety not because of it threatening any of their “gaskets,” but because living with anxiety is just a plain miserable way to live.

Chronic hypertension is a disease with a mortality rate. Sporadic hypertension from anxiety is part of the survival process of flight-or-fight. Chronic anxiety can possibly cause chronic hypertension, but its biggest problem is one of functioning normally in the activities of daily living.

Can You Treat Anxiety With Antidepressants?

Many people are on antidepressants (tricyclics, SSRIs, SNRIs) for anxiety. Strictly speaking, antidepressants don’t directly treat anxiety, unless it is depression causing the anxiety. But for those who have anxiety but are not depressed, the better drugs for it are what are called antianxiety drugs, primarily from the benzodiazepine family. Yes, they are much better in treating anxiety than the antidepressants, but…

…they are addictive, habit-forming, abused, and can be life-threateningly dangerous. Take too much of them, and you can die. Take too little of them (as in stopping them abruptly), and you can die. Under careful supervision, however, they are safe, the disasters coming from people who abuse their drugs or self-treat themselves by titrating the dosage up without legitimate medical supervision.

This is why antidepressants are often chosen first, and if the anxiety improves, the bonus is that the primary diagnosis is not anxiety, but depression, and treating the right diagnosis is always better.

It’s easy to make the connection that although anxiety won’t kill you with high blood pressure, anti-anxiety drugs can if you make poor choices regarding them. And although chronic hypertension can kill you, the hypertension caused by anxiety won’t.

Diseases are treated by healthcare professionals for a reason. Medications are prescribed by healthcare professionals for a reason. It is not prudent to try to outsmart this system. Trying to outsmart this system should give you anxiety.


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