Stress and hypertension

WMJ. 1998 Dec;97(11):34-8.


Stress can cause hypertension through repeated blood pressure elevations as well as by stimulation of the nervous system to produce large amounts of vasoconstricting hormones that increase blood pressure. Factors affecting blood pressure through stress include white coat hypertension, job strain, race, social environment, and emotional distress. Furthermore, when one risk factor is coupled with other stress producing factors, the effect on blood pressure is multiplied. Overall, studies show that stress does not directly cause hypertension, but can have an effect on its development. A variety of non-pharmacologic treatments to manage stress have been found effective in reducing blood pressure and development of hypertension, examples of which are meditation, acupressure, biofeedback and music therapy. Recent results from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey indicate that 50 million American adults have hypertension (defined to be a systolic blood pressure of greater than 139 mm Hg or a diastolic blood pressure of greater than 89 mm Hg). In 95% of these cases, the cause of hypertension is unknown and they are categorized as "essential" hypertension. Although a single cause may not be identified, the general consensus is that various factors contribute to blood pressure elevation in essential hypertension. In these days of 70 hour work weeks, pagers, fax machines, and endless committee meetings, stress has become a prevalent part of people's lives; therefore the effect of stress on blood pressure is of increasing relevance and importance. Although stress may not directly cause hypertension, it can lead to repeated blood pressure elevations, which eventually may lead to hypertension. In this article we explore how stress can cause hypertension and what can be done about it.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Data Collection
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / diagnosis
  • Hypertension / epidemiology
  • Hypertension / etiology*
  • Hypertension / therapy
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Physician-Patient Relations
  • Pregnancy
  • Risk Factors
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Stress, Psychological / complications*
  • United States / epidemiology