Print this page

Stress & Blood Pressure




Stress and your heart

Stress comes in all shapes and sizes and it is something we all experience to varying degrees.

Some people thrive on very busy lifestyles and are able to cope with life's crises. Other people feel stressed by the smallest change in their daily routine.

Most people fall somewhere in between these two extremes and have periods where their individual stress levels increase.

What causes stress?

Any change in life's routine, pleasant or unpleasant, can cause stress. Divorce, bereavement, illness, retiring, marriage, holidays all of these things can be stressful.

The kind of stress that can be damaging to your health is long term stress such as the permanent threat of redundancy, constant family problems, loneliness and depression. Your environment can also be a major source of stress e.g. noise levels, pollution, poor housing or high crime levels.

You need 2 things to make you feel stressed:

 

A potential stressful situation.

The way you react to it.

 

There are many situations which may panic one person but stimulate another, for example a tight deadline at work can be seen as a worry or a challenge.

The amount of control we have over our stressful situations is important. The more control we have over our lives and the less likely we are to feel stressed.

What are the signs of stress?

Stress can show itself as physical outwards signs or by changing the way you feel emotionally. Some of the signs include:

 

Sleep disturbances.

Being impatient or irritable.

Lack of concentration.

Unable to make decisions.

Drinking or smoking more.

Unable to relax.

Feeling tense.

 

 

These signs and feelings are caused by the increased activity of the nervous system and the actions of two hormones, adrenaline and cortical.

Adrenaline is the hormone that gets you ready for action, preparing you to "fight" or "flight". It stimulates the heart to beat faster and redirects blood to the brain, heart and muscles. As blood is rapidly pumped around your body, your blood pressure rises. The blood becomes stickier and the liver releases sugars and fats into the bloodstream to give you instant energy.

The high blood pressure caused by stress can mean more wear and tear on the heart. The stickiness of blood increases the risks of blood clots forming in the arteries and if the supplies of sugars and fats are not used up by the muscles they can stick to the artery walls and form "fatty deposits" which can fur up the arteries. All this is bad news for your heart and can put you at greater risk of coronary heart disease.

Beating stress

There are two approaches to beating stress:

Tackling the cause of the stress.

Reducing the effects of stress and the way you react to it.

 

The second approach tends to be easier to achieve.

Exercise: Exercise helps to lift tension; releases pent up aggression, and generally give you a feeling of wellbeing. It is best to choose a form of exercising that requires stamina like walking, cycling or swimming.

Relaxation: Relaxation techniques such as meditation or yoga can help to reduce stress.

Even just talking to a friend can also be of help.

Recognising "stress triggers": This can be a big help. Think about what causes you stress and when you find yourself in those situations make a conscious effort to relax and stay calm.

There is sometimes no easy way for an individual to tackle the sources of stress at home or at work.

Most things are beyond our control but there may be some action you could take to try to remedy the situation. For example, speak to someone who may be able to help you e.g. your boss at work or local residents associations.

Blood pressure and your heart

The heart is a pump and its job is to circulate blood around the body through the blood vessels (the arteries). The walls of healthy arteries are elastic and every time the heart beats they stretch as the blood surges through. Blood vessels, however, are also a "closed system"; this means that if the arteries become narrower or lose their elasticity (harden), the heart has to pump much harder to move blood around the body. When this happens, blood pressure rises. Raised blood pressure puts a strain on the heart because it has to work much harder. Raised blood pressure can also damage the delicate walls of the arteries as the blood is forced through them at a higher pressure. Both of these factors can increase the chance of suffering a heart attack.

High blood pressure or hypertension is a very serious problem and can make you more likely to have a heart attack or stroke, or suffer from kidney damage. In the UK, people's blood pressure tends to rise as they age but this increase can be delayed, reversed and prevented by making the right lifestyle choices.What is high blood pressure?

Blood pressure is measured in millimetres of mercury (mmHg) and a blood pressure reading consists of two numbers, e.g. 135/80. The first number is the systolic pressure (the maximum pressure when the heart contracts) and the second is the diastolic pressure (the minimum pressure when the heart relaxes between beats).

· Blood pressure less then 140/90 is normal.

· Blood pressure between 140/90 and 160/100 is "borderline" or slightly high.

· Blood pressure above 160/100 is high.

Is high blood pressure common?

About 1 in 4 middle aged adults in the UK have blood pressure above the normal range, that is above 140/90. It is more common in older people.

High blood pressure is also more common in people of Afro-Caribbean origin and people from the Indian sub-continent. About half of people of Afro-Caribbean origin over the age of 40 have high blood pressure.

Is high blood pressure a problem?

High blood pressure usually causes no symptoms; so many people with high blood pressure have no idea that they have high blood pressure. The only way to know if your blood pressure is high is to have it measured and is advisable for adults to have this done at least once every 5 years.

What causes high blood pressure?

In most people, the cause of high blood pressure is not known. In some it can be caused by kidney or hormone problems, but these causes are quite rare.

Do I have high blood pressure?

A "one off" high blood pressure reading does not mean ongoing high blood pressure. Blood pressure varies during the day. Blood pressure can also be high in a person who is anxious or not used to having their blood pressure measured. High blood pressure will be diagnosed in a person who has consistently high readings taken on several occasions over a period of time. The length of this period of time may vary from weeks to months, depending on how high the blood pressure readings are.

Can high blood pressure be prevented?

Many things contribute to the development of high blood pressure. Some of these things are beyond our control such as age, gender, and ethnic background.

However many of the factors that can cause high blood pressure can be easily changed.

Doing some of the following may help reduce your blood pressure and keep it within the normal range.

 

Avoid being overweight.

Don't smoke or stop smoking if you are a smoker.

Take regular exercise.

Eat less salt in your diet.

Eat more fruit and vegetables.

Avoid drinking too much alcohol.

Try to reduce the amount of stress in your life and try to relax.