Anxiety disorders, hypertension, and cardiovascular risk: a review

Int J Psychiatry Med. 2011;41(4):365-77. doi: 10.2190/PM.41.4.f.


Hypertension, coronary heart disease (CHD), and anxiety disorders all cause substantial morbidity to patients and costs to the healthcare system. Associations between these diseases have been hypothesized and studied for decades. In particular, psychosocial stressors associated with anxiety disorders raise autonomic arousal via the hypothalamic-pituitary axis which increases circulating catecholamines. This heightened arousal is associated with an increased risk of hypertension and a pro-inflammatory state and, consequently, development of coronary heart disease. This association holds across the spectrum of anxiety disorders (generalized anxiety, posttraumatic stress disorder, panic disorder, and obsessive compulsive disorder) and also when controlling for comorbid conditions such as depression and physical ailments. Multiple cross sectional studies reveal a positive association between anxiety and hypertension. These associations are bidirectional, with those with hypertension being more likely to have anxiety and those with anxiety being more likely to have hypertension. However, a few studies have shown no association. Longitudinal studies point to an increased risk of development of hypertension in patients who suffer from anxiety. More convincing studies show links between anxiety symptoms and disorders, including panic disorder and PTSD, and cardiovascular outcomes. Drawing broad conclusions from these studies is challenging, however, given the multiplicity of scales used to measure anxiety disorders. Anxiety, hypertension, and CHD are common conditions seen in primary care, and anxiety may be an important predictor of future CHD outcomes. Better recognition of the association of these conditions and the possible roles of each in development of the other should alert primary care providers to be vigilant in monitoring and treating anxiety, hypertension, and CHD.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Anxiety Disorders / epidemiology*
  • Anxiety Disorders / physiopathology
  • Anxiety Disorders / psychology*
  • Arousal / physiology
  • Catecholamines / blood
  • Comorbidity
  • Coronary Disease / epidemiology*
  • Coronary Disease / physiopathology
  • Coronary Disease / psychology*
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / epidemiology*
  • Hypertension / physiopathology
  • Hypertension / psychology*
  • Hypothalamo-Hypophyseal System / physiopathology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / epidemiology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / physiopathology
  • Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder / psychology
  • Panic Disorder / epidemiology
  • Panic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Panic Disorder / psychology
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Factors
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / epidemiology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / physiopathology
  • Stress Disorders, Post-Traumatic / psychology


  • Catecholamines