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Managing Stress Can Lower Blood Pressure


WebMD Health News

May 31, 2001 -- Think stress is all in your head? Think again: It may also be surging through your arteries, resulting in high blood pressure. But new research shows that a program of stress management, supervised by professionals and tailored to individual needs, can help lower that high blood pressure.

Reducing psychological stress and improving a person's ability to cope with anger -- a principal component of stress -- appears to lower blood pressure in people with high blood pressure, say Wolfgang Linden, PhD., and colleagues at the department of psychology at the University of British Columbia, Vancouver.

Twenty-seven men and women with high blood pressure received 10 hours of individualized stress management training under the supervision of professional therapists. Treatment was tailored to the individual, but was guided by the principles of "cognitive-behavior therapy" -- a structured treatment that focuses on changing thoughts, beliefs, and assumptions about stress and anger.

Measurements of blood pressure were obtained using monitors that are fitted to the individual, allowing assessment of blood pressure throughout a 24-hour day. Results were compared to 33 patients with high blood pressure who did not receive the stress management program.

Blood pressure was significantly reduced in the group receiving treatment, while there was no change in the group that did not participate in the program. What's more, when the program was offered to individuals who originally did not receive it, their blood pressure dropped too, Linden and colleagues report.

The study appears in the April 23 edition of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

Experts say that the relationship between stress and physical symptoms such as high blood pressure is well known. But tackling stress and reducing those symptoms is not necessarily a do-it-yourself task, they say.

Michael Mogadam, MD, assistant professor of medicine at Georgetown University School of Medicine in Washington, tells WebMD that the most critical components of stress are hostility, anger, and depression -- or HAD, for short.

And he distinguishes HAD from the so-called "Type A" personality who thrives on achievement and doing as many tasks at one time as possible. It's not the Type A person, but the person with a lifelong store of hostility, anger, and depression, who is most susceptible to the kind of stress that can wreak havoc with blood pressure and health, he says.

"Someone with HAD has the same risk of [heart disease] as someone who has high cholesterol," he tells WebMD.

And while there are some things individuals can do by themselves to control HAD, many people will require the help of professionals. Self-help strategies may work for some common everyday stresses, but they are unlikely to have an effect on the kind of stress that causes high blood pressure and heart disease, he says.

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