Panic attacks caused by anxiety or panic disorders – which is a type of anxiety disorder – are surely concerning,  but can panic attacks cause high blood pressure? One of Our Reader has asked us: Does anxiety lead to hypertension? What are the symptoms and treatments for anxiety? This article aims to answer all these questions and more.

Anxiety Disorders and Panic Attacks

Dealing with anxiety can be difficult; people with anxiety disorders find their stress interferes with their daily life. Most people have reported feeling on edge or irritable throughout the day, have difficulty concentrating, and have difficulty sleeping, with some cases leading to insomnia. One of the most troubling anxiety symptoms is panic attacks; people with recurring panic attacks are diagnosed with panic disorder, which is a type of anxiety disorder.

The intense fear that panic attacks often bring may completely overwhelm the person, leaving them short of breath and detached from their surroundings. While dealing with a panic attack, the person may also feel a sudden increase in blood pressure and heartbeat, accompanied by sweating, shaking, and muscle tension, especially in the chest. These symptoms may sound extremely difficult to deal with, and without a doubt, they are – but you are not alone.

Global statistics have shown that 2.5% to 7% of every country’s population is diagnosed with anxiety disorders. In 2017, an estimated 284 million people in the world reportedly experienced at least one type of anxiety disorder. These statistics make the condition the most prevalent disorder in mental health worldwide.

Symptoms of Anxiety

Many tell-tale signs point to anxiety disorders, with some being more common than others. In the case that you are feeling or have felt any of these symptoms for an extended period and feel that the symptoms are affecting your personal and professional life, you should contact your doctor:

  1. Agitation: While feeling anxious, the release of hormones may result in a feeling of agitation, with succeeding effects including a dry mouth, shaky hands, sweaty palms, or high pulse rate.
  2. Worrying Excessively: If things that are out of your control cloud your mind constantly, if you are concerned that you are developing irrational fears or feel that your worrying is disproportionate to the events that trigger it, these concerns may be pointing to an anxiety disorder.
  3. Restlessness: A majority of people suffering from anxiety have described their restlessness as feeling on edge, feeling fidgety, or having an obsessive urge to move. 
  4. Fatigue: Although this is not an easily noticeable symptom, people feel drained and exhausted after anxiety attacks, and some might even suffer from chronic fatigue due to their generalized anxiety disorder.
  5. Trouble Sleeping: Disturbances in sleep are highly associated with anxiety disorders.
  6. Difficulty Concentrating: Anxiety might be affecting your short-term memory; if so, you will feel that you have difficulty concentrating during everyday tasks.
  7. Muscle Tension: Tense muscles are also a pointer towards anxiety if you feel you have tense muscles through most of the week.
  8. Panic Attacks: Frequent, unexpected, and recurring panic attacks are cause for concern, as these may point to a panic disorder.
  9. Social Anxiety: Do you tend to avoid social situations to the extent that upcoming social encounters make you feel fearful or worried, and you tend to avoid situations because of these fears? These could be signs of a social anxiety disorder.

Anxiety vs. Hypertension

The release of stress hormones in the body during panic attacks almost immediately leads to an increased heart rate and constricted blood vessels. As a result, blood pressure rises significantly. If you were to ask if panic attacks cause high blood pressure temporarily, then yes, there is a direct cause-and-effect relationship between the two. But panic attacks and anxiety generally do not cause hypertension since that is a condition in which blood pressure is consistently high.

A person suffering from anxiety is just as likely to develop hypertension as a person without anxiety disorders is. With that said, temporarily high blood pressure frequently occurring over a long period can cause almost the same damage as hypertension does – damaging one’s blood vessels, heart, and kidneys. 

Another link connecting anxiety with hypertension, as a study revealed; people with anxiety disorders are more likely to engage in unhealthy coping mechanisms such as drinking alcoholic beverages, smoking, and overeating. If these damaging habits stay for extended periods, they can lead to hypertension.

White Coat Hypertension

According to the American Heart Association, high blood pressure is defined by a pressure reading of 180/30 or higher. Blood pressure readings around these values may be the resting blood pressure of a patient dealing with hypertension, but such is not the case for white coat hypertension. Whitecoat hypertension is a common problem in which people have high blood pressure when visiting their doctors but have normal blood pressure at home. This is a seemingly unlikely link between anxiety and hypertension at first glance. 

Still, when considering the effects of social stress on blood pressure and primarily the worrying and concern related to visits to the doctor, one can understand how anxiety can lead to a doctor misdiagnosing anxiety as a hypertension disorder – a textbook white coat hypertension reading.

Whitecoat hypertension is more common in women and happens more frequently with people who have anxiety disorders. There might be situations where panic attacks cause high blood pressure, which, although temporarily, can seem as hypertension. Thankfully, white coat hypertension does not lead to any long-term problems and has easy solutions such as getting your blood pressure measured at home or your office. 

ALSO READ: Does Vaping Raise Your Blood Pressure?

Treatments for Anxiety

There are several options available to treat or lessen the effects of anxiety. It is recommended that a combination of treatments be followed:

1. Medication:

There are several medicines available to relieve the symptoms of anxiety, including:

  • Buspirone – an anti-anxiety drug,
  • Benzodiazepine – a medicine which is a type of sedative and offers short-term relief from symptoms of anxiety,
  • certain antidepressants,
  • Beta-blockers – used to treat hypertension. Since anxiety and hypertension ultimately cause similar damage, this medication is generally suitable for both.

2. Changes in Lifestyle:

Making key but straightforward changes in one’s daily routine may be just the push needed to alleviate and treat anxiety. These changes include:

  • Doing regular exercise, 
  • Practicing meditation,
  • Learning deep breathing techniques,
  • Maintaining a healthy sleeping routine,
  • Avoiding unhealthy habits such as drinking and smoking,
  • Eating a healthy diet.

3. Psychotherapy:

Due to the psychological factors involved in anxiety, working with a psychotherapist on your mental health can go a long way in helping you deal with stress. A standard method used by therapists is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which teaches patients to restructure their thinking patterns to reduce and manage unhealthy thoughts and worries caused by anxiety.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Can panic attacks cause high blood pressure?

Yes, a person’s sympathetic nervous system going into overdrive will cause a spike in blood pressure for a short time.

Are temporary increases in blood pressure damaging?

 Yes, if frequent, they will cause damage to essential organs all over the body. 

Can anxiety cause or increase the chances of hypertension?

No, not directly. Both are different conditions that mostly require different treatments. 

The Bottom Line

The few connections between anxiety and hypertension are intriguing, but either of these conditions should not be mistaken for the other. We hope that this article gives you a better understanding of the differences between an anxiety disorder and long-term high blood pressure.