Study links stress, high blood pressure

May 12, 1992|By Medical Tribune News Service

A high-stress job can do more than give you an ulcer -- new research confirms there's a good chance it also will boost your blood pressure, which increases your risk of developing heart disease.

"The remarkable thing about job strain is that it raises your blood pressure at work, at home, even during sleep," according to lead researcher Peter L. Schnall of New York Hospital's Cardiovascular and Hypertension Center.

Mr. Schnall and Dr. Thomas G. Pickering recorded the blood pressures of 264 men every 15 minutes for 24-hour periods and found a relationship between job strain and increases in blood pressure.

Men in high-stress jobs had an average 7 millimeter increase at work in systolic pressure and a 3 millimeter increase in diastolic pressure, he reported in this month's issue of the journal Hypertension, published by the American Heart Association.

Systolic pressure occurs when the heart contracts and is the highest pressure measured in the arteries. Diastolic pressure is measured between heartbeats. A person with a systolic pressure of 140 or higher and/or a diastolic pressure of 90 or higher is considered to have high blood pressure.

Alcohol, considered to be a risk factor for numerous health problems, including blood pressure, was found to increase blood pressure among men in high-strain jobs who drank at least five or more times per week or binge drank, the study found.

The researchers also found that men in high-strain jobs were likely to have slightly enlarged hearts. The heart also will not pump effectively if it is enlarged.

Older men had significantly greater increases in blood pressure than younger men, the study found.

For example, men in their 30s who had high-strain jobs did not experience blood pressure hikes, while men in their 40s had a 9 millimeter increase in systolic blood pressure.

Older men showed even greater increases. Those in their 50s had a 15 millimeter increase in systolic pressure and an almost 9 millimeter increase in diastolic pressure, Dr. Pickering found.

"As we age we don't deal as well with external stressors or internal furies as we did when we were 35," said Dr. Thomas Graboys, a cardiologist at Harvard University in Boston. "As the body gets older, resiliency lessens."

High blood pressure leads to increased deposits of fatty buildup called plaque in the blood vessels, he said. Persistently elevated blood pressure and subsequent plaque deposits will damage the vessel walls, impairing the flow of blood to and from the heart and increasing the risk of heart attack, he said.

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