Stress and high blood pressure: What's the connection?

Stress and long-term high blood pressure may not be linked, but taking steps to reduce your stress can improve your general health, including your blood pressure. Discover how. By Mayo Clinic Staff

Stressful situations can cause your blood pressure to spike temporarily, but can stress also cause long-term high blood pressure? Could all those short-term stress-related blood pressure spikes add up and cause high blood pressure in the long term? Researchers aren't sure.

However, doing activities to reduce your blood pressure, such as exercising 30 to 60 minutes a day, can reduce your stress level. And if you've been diagnosed with high blood pressure, doing activities that can help you manage your stress and improve your health can make a long-term difference in lowering your blood pressure.

Linking stress and blood pressure challenging

Your body produces a surge of hormones when you're in a stressful situation. These hormones temporarily increase your blood pressure by causing your heart to beat faster and your blood vessels to narrow.

There's no proof that stress by itself causes long-term high blood pressure. It may be that other behaviors linked to stress — such as overeating, drinking alcohol and poor sleeping habits — cause high blood pressure. However, short-term stress-related spikes in your blood pressure added up over time may put you at risk of developing long-term high blood pressure.

It's possible that health conditions related to stress — such as anxiety, depression, and isolation from friends and family — may be linked to heart disease, but there's no evidence they're linked to high blood pressure. Instead, it may be that the hormones produced when you're emotionally stressed may damage your arteries, leading to heart disease. It may also be that being depressed may cause self-destructive behavior, such as neglecting to take your medications to control high blood pressure or other heart conditions.

Dec. 06, 2012 See more In-depth