Stress & Blood Pressure: should we be concerned?

Jerry Kennard Health Pro
  • The actress and comedian Lily Tomlin is credited with saying, "for fast-acting relief, try slowing down." Sound advice, especially as stress is known to have an adverse effect on health. We know some of the mechanisms of stress but others are less clear. For example, work stress and general anxiety conspire to make us feel tense but what exactly is this is doing to blood pressure and is there anything to worry about?


    High blood pressure is a well established risk factor for a number of medical conditions, notably stroke and heart attacks. There are a number of causes of high blood pressure and the relationship to stress isn't particularly clear. Stress definitely causes a spike in blood pressure but it doesn't last. Quite what the cumulative effect of multiple spikes over a period of time is nobody really knows.

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    Stress influences health both directly and indirectly. It could be the case that stress alters behaviors in ways that indirectly has a bearing on blood pressure. Stress for example can lead to disruptive sleep patterns and this can increase blood pressure. Stress can also lead to changes in diet, increased alcohol intake and smoking. All these are known to have an effect on blood pressure.


    Work stress is often thought of as having negative implications for health but research into work stress and high blood pressure varies. The nature of work may be influential but so is the way people treat themselves during work. Choosing to sit at a work station rather than take time out simply adds to stress. Sitting around rather than taking a little exercise also contributes. Choosing fast food and sugary drinks all contribute negatively to blood pressure. Trying to separate stress from these other factors isn't easy but the cumulative effect probably does influence blood pressure.


    These days it's easier than ever to monitor your own blood pressure. Blood pressure machines can be purchased online or in shops and are relatively inexpensive. They are accurate enough to give an indication of blood pressure.


    So, you've got your blood pressure machine, now what do you look for? Bear in mind that blood pressure changes all the time. It changes when you lie down, sit up or exercise. It also tends to increase according to body mass and decreases with weight loss. Bearing in mind these variations the time to take blood pressure is when you are relatively relaxed. An automated machine will probably give you readings for your pulse rate and blood pressure. Assuming you are of average height and weight a normal pulse rate is anywhere between 60-80 beats per minute. Very fit people may have much slower pulse rates.


    Blood pressure provides an upper and a lower reading. Again, an average adult will have a reading somewhere in the region of 120 over 80. If the upper reading is greater than 140 or the lower greater than 90 the person is said to be mildly hypertensive. If however the upper reading is greater than 160 or the lower greater than 115 this is classed as very high blood pressure. Any blood pressure higher than normal is a case for concern but very high blood pressure significantly increases the risk of disease, particularly if combined with other risk factors such as high cholesterol.


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    Reducing your stress will certainly help in the fight to reduce blood pressure. If combined with a healthy diet and exercise the benefits will be clear to see and feel.

Published On: January 20, 2011