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Can Stress Cause High Blood Pressure? What You Need To Know

Written by Jim Duncan, MSW | Last updated:

Stress can have many effects on your overall health, but can stress cause high blood pressure? Yes, when you’re under stress, your blood vessels constrict and your heart rate raises. But it’s not always simple. Let’s explore more.

An Introduction to Stress and High Blood Pressure

Stress and high blood pressure are such common health issues that it almost seems like everyone is dealing with it. The fact is, everyone does. Are such common, everyday things like stress and high blood pressure impacted by your genetics? Of course they are.

But just because you’re stressed or find out your blood pressure is high, doesn’t mean you’re in trouble. Stress and blood pressure levels fluctuate all of the time. It’s normal! Chronic levels of either are not.

In the United States, nearly half of adults (108 million, or 45%) have chronic high blood pressure or hypertension, but only about 1 in 4 adults (24%) with hypertension have their condition under control.

So, not only do we have a major health issue with hypertension, we have a majority of people who can’t or don’t work on fixing it. We don’t want you to be one of those people!

What You Should Know About High Blood Pressure

As a simple matter, blood pressure increases when the blood vessels narrow or when the heart pumps harder [1].

When a doctor measures your blood pressure, they give you two numbers stated as “X over Y”. The “X” number describes the force when your heart beats (systolic blood pressure). The “Y” number describes the force between heartbeats (diastolic blood pressure) [2].

But what’s considered normal? Healthy and unhealthy blood pressure ranges are [3]:

  • Normal: between 90 over 60 mmHg and 120 over 80 mmHg
  • High: systolic 130 mmHg or higher and diastolic 80 mmHg or higher

When high blood pressure becomes a chronic condition, it becomes hypertension, and that is what we are talking about here.

There are two main types of hypertension, primary and secondary. Primary or “essential” hypertension is the kind that just kind of happens over time. It gradually creeps up on you. Secondary hypertension has more direct causes from certain conditions or medications [4].

The fact of matter is, your blood pressure fluctuates on a regular basis. You get in an argument with your partner or struggle to meet a deadline at work or someone runs a stop sign and nearly hits your car. There are many ways to affect your blood pressure.

What do these many ways have in common? They are all stressors on your system.

What You Should Know About Stress

The stress manager of your body is called the HPA axis. It is a network between your brain and glands, set up to release hormones in response to potential danger [5, 6, 7].

The three main hormones your body releases are epinephrine (adrenaline), norepinephrine (noradrenaline), and cortisol [5]. This stress response slows down immunity, digestion, and healing, so more energy is available for “fight or flight.” Once the danger has passed, the body should return to normal [5].

In other words, it’s natural to get stressed out sometimes. Stress only becomes a problem when it starts interfering with your daily life [8]. Consistent or chronic stress is very detrimental to your health. It can contribute to a number of things, like [9, 10]:

  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Memory and learning problems
  • Immune system functioning
  • Heart problems
  • Gut problems

How can getting stressed out affect so many parts of your body? Because we are a living system. Everything is connected in some form or another, but we are all also unique in how that system reacts.

This is why stress can motivate one person, give someone else a migraine, or cause another to get nauseous. It’s also why your genetics can have a big impact.

Can Stress Cause High Blood Pressure Or Hypertension?

It’s really important to distinguish between high blood pressure and hypertension. People have a tendency to speak of them as being the same thing, when it’s only partially true. Hypertension is chronic high blood pressure. High blood pressure by itself isn’t necessarily bad, whereas hypertension is.

Does stress cause hypertension by itself? The simple answer is, “No.” There isn’t any research currently that ties stress directly to hypertension [11]. The keyword there is, directly.

So, can stress cause high blood pressure? There is a vast amount of research on the fact that stress raises your blood pressure. It’s one of the effects of the hormones released in response to stress – it constricts your blood vessels and raises your heart rate.

When you get stressed, your blood pressure goes up. It’s normal! However, higher blood pressure does not equate to hypertension. It requires persistent, long-term, high blood pressure for it to be considered hypertension. This can happen in any number of ways.

For example, if you don’t have a good paying job, there is stress over paying bills and putting food on the table.

You might live in a neighborhood prone to violent activity such that you don’t feel safe walking down the street.

Your boss is pushing you to do work within a timeframe that is nearly impossible to achieve.

One of your children is struggling with school, your partner isn’t happy and is arguing about things that never used to be a problem, and you’re lucky if you sleep five hours a night.

You can see how easy it might be to actually feel stress for a good portion of the day, and have very little opportunity to let your body get back to normal.

One of the worst things stress can affect is sleep. Ongoing issues of insomnia are not good for blood pressure, as sleep is one of the main sources of resetting your system [12].

Just thinking you are stressed out and worrying about the stress can raise your blood pressure [13, 14]. It’s the kind of thing that if you aren’t careful can feed on itself. So, what was an intermittent problem of dealing with stress, becomes a constant one, and elevates your risk for hypertension. It should come as no surprise that so many people end up struggling with this issue.

Still, just because stress can cause high blood pressure, it doesn’t mean you’ll end up being hypertensive. Not everybody responds to stress in the same way. Some people seem to thrive under pressure or are able to deal with stress more effectively. Others need a much calmer environment to be at their best [15]. This is one of the points where your genetics come into play.

How Genetics Can Affect Stress And High Blood Pressure

The word “mutation” doesn’t have a very positive connotation, unless you happen to be a member of the X-men. But genetic mutations can be good or bad. We are what we are today due to a long history of beneficial mutations. With that in mind, we’ll look at a couple of genes that can work either way for you in this case.

Recall before, we mentioned that simply thinking about and dwelling on the stressors can induce a stress response. Often, this is where therapy comes in, particularly mindfulness-based cognitive therapy (MBCT).

Mindfulness is a relaxation technique that alters what your mind is focusing on. Cognitive therapy’s goal is to change how you think about things, to turn negative thoughts and feelings about something into neutral or positive ones. How well this type of psychotherapy works for you can be affected by your genetics.

Genetic variation in the genes for CHRM2 (rs1824024 AA genotype) and OPRM1 (rs609148 AG genotype) specifically have an impact on the level of Positive Affect following MBCT. Mindfulness may improve positive outlook in people with one or both of these variants [16]. This Positive Affect functions as a buffer between you and stress, so it’s important to take steps to adjust how you perceive the stress in your life.

On the other hand, your genes can also make it harder for you to deal with stress. Variants in your GABRA6 gene (rs3219151 TT and CT genotypes) can lower GABA activity in your brain. GABA is a neurotransmitter that works to inhibit neuron activity in the brain, so lower levels of this can be detrimental by allowing your brain to be more active than it should be. This can make you more sensitive to stress [17].

The last thing you need these days is to be more sensitive to stress. While something like the therapy mentioned above can help with this, GABA is one of those things that can also be affected by supplements. You might want to consider purple passionflower as a way to make you less susceptible to stress [18].

These genes are by no means the extent to which variants may affect your levels of stress and how you manage it to keep your blood pressure at a healthy level.

These are some of the genes that can affect stress, which in turn can cause high blood pressure. We focused on stress here, but there are many that can more directly impact your blood pressure. For example, variants in your AGT, ACE2 genes can directly affect constriction of your blood vessels.

How can you find out if your genes make you more susceptible to experiencing stress and high blood pressure? By getting your DNA tested with SelfDecode.

If you want to optimize your health, you can take a trial and error approach to see what works for you, but why would you?

The SelfDecode Blood Pressure Report analyzes over 1 million genetic variants that can influence your blood pressure. Unlike other DNA companies that only look at a few variants, SelfDecode uses AI and machine learning to give you the most accurate results.

Can stress cause high blood pressure DNA report

The reports also include a prioritized list of what you should and should not do to optimize your blood pressure. Not only that, you can build your own health regimen from your recommendations based on what works for you.

Can stress cause high blood pressure recommendations

SelfDecode offers many detailed DNA wellness reports that cover a variety of other health topics, including stress, anxiety, and heart health, to name a few.

Stress is only one of the things that can contribute to high blood pressure. There are many other things you need to take into consideration in order to achieve optimal health. SelfDecode can help you figure out where your priorities should be.

Concluding Remarks

High blood pressure is nothing to be trifled with. If you aren’t proactive about it, the odds are pretty good that you will be dealing with it at some point in your life. Modern life makes it far too easy to get.

Can stress cause high blood pressure? Stress is a significant risk factor in developing hypertension, even if the research is out on causing it directly. It raises your risks for so many health problems.

Reducing stress should be a part of your regular health regimen. Whether it’s from diet, exercise, sleep, or mental efforts like mindfulness, or all of the above, alleviating stress should be a consideration in all you do for optimizing your health.

Working on reducing your stress can help you lower your blood pressure. High blood pressure can bring along many other issues. If you want to get ahead of your health problems, you should check out SelfDecode.

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About the Author

Jim Duncan

Jim completed his M.S.W. in Social Work Administration at Portland State University. He has always been interested in analyzing social issues, and he helped fund and start a program against domestic violence. He has also conducted many public speaking sessions about violence against women, and published 3 fiction novels. Inspired by SelfDecode’s mission to make precision health a reality, he decided to use his natural writing ability to help teach the world about the power and promise of genomics. His areas of interest include science-based writing,  astronomy, and genomics.


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