Anxiety and High Blood Pressure

Some evidence suggests that chronic anxiety may lead to long-term health problems such as hypertension (high blood pressure). An 18- to 20-year follow-up of people who participated in the Framingham Heart Study found such a connection in men ages 45 to 59. None of the men had high blood pressure at the start of the study.

To evaluate psychological traits that might lead to high blood pressure, participants were asked about levels of anxiety, feelings of anger, and expression of anger. Men who had a high score for anxiety at the start of the study were twice as likely to develop high blood pressure than those with a low score for anxiety symptoms. Not all studies have found such an association, however.

Anxiety and Heart Attack

Heart attack risk may also be increased by anxiety. A study of 30,000 men, ages 42 to 77, found that those who scored highest on a questionnaire measuring common phobias had triple the risk of a subsequent fatal heart attack than men with the lowest scores.

Similar results were found in a smaller study of 1,408 men in the United Kingdom. It is possible that the fatal heart attacks resulted from some physical consequence of phobic anxiety, such as a disturbance in the heart's rhythm or hyperventilation, which led to spasm of a coronary artery.

Other Effects of Anxiety on the Body

One large Canadian study found that among people with mental and physical health issues, anxiety was most commonly linked with lung and gastrointestinal illnesses, arthritis, allergies, thyroid problems, and migraine headaches. It is possible that anxiety could trigger one or more processes, like hormonal changes, that contribute to a physical illness.

Publication Review By: Karen L. Swartz, M.D.

Published: 22 Jun 2011

Last Modified: 07 Oct 2014