High blood pressure can contribute to neurotic behavior in some people

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A new study suggests that high blood pressure may contribute to anxiety and neurotic personality traits. Maskot/Getty Images
  • Recent research suggests that high blood pressure can lead to an increase in neurotic behaviors.
  • High blood pressure (hypertension) is a risk factor for heart attack, stroke and other health problems.
  • Hypertension was responsible for more than 670,000 dead in the United States in 2020.

Neuroticism is a personality trait characterized by a tendency to experience negative emotions such as anxiety, fear, mental stress, anger, guilt, and depression. Research shows it is associated with worse health outcomes.

“Individuals who score higher in neuroticism tend to be at greater risk of developing chronic diseases – including cardiovascular disease and other diseases such as Alzheimer’s disease – and [they] they are at increased risk of premature mortality,” said Angelina Sutin, PhD, a professor in the Department of Behavioral Sciences and Social Medicine at Florida State University in Tallahassee.

Additionally, “neuroticism is the strongest personality predictor of mental health disorders,” she said, “which may contribute to poor physical health outcomes.”

The level of this personality trait in a population can also change over time.

For example, one recently she studies found that neuroticism increased among youth in the United States during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While neuroticism is known to increase the risk of health problems, a new study suggests that, in some cases, the association may go the other way.

Specifically, high diastolic blood pressure is likely to cause neuroticism, suggest results of a large-scale genetic study recently published in the journal general psychiatry.

Blood pressure is expressed as a measure with two numbers, one number on the top (systolic) and one on the bottom (diastolic). For example, 120/80 mm Hg.

Systolic blood pressure represents the pressure in blood vessels when the heart contracts.

In contrast, diastolic is the blood vessel pressure between contractions of the heart, when the vessels are relaxed.

High blood pressure, also known as high blood pressure, is a risk factors for heart attack, stroke and other health problems.

This condition was responsible for more than 670,000 dead in the United States in 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

While a poor diet, lack of physical activity and high stress levels can affect whether you have high blood pressure, yours genes also play a role.

The authors of the new study used this fact to examine the association between blood pressure and certain personality traits using a technique called Mendelian randomization.

They drew on several large-scale datasets containing genetic data extracted from blood samples provided by people of predominantly European ancestry.

The researchers looked at four blood pressure tracts: systolic blood pressure, diastolic blood pressure, pulse pressure and hypertension. They also looked at four psychological states: anxiety, depressive symptoms, neuroticism and subjective well-being.

Their analysis showed that diastolic blood pressure had “significant causal effects” on neuroticism but not on anxiety, depressive symptoms or subjective well-being.

The other blood pressure traits had no association with the four psychological states.

The researchers acknowledged some limitations of their findings. For example, since the genetic data came mostly from people of European ancestry, the results may not apply to other populations.

Furthermore, the researchers could not rule out pleiotropy, in which a gene could affect both diastolic blood pressure and neuroticism. This might make the bond between the two seem stronger.

More research is needed to fully understand the mechanisms linking blood pressure and psychological states, but the study adds a new twist to that association.

“Interestingly, the researchers found evidence to support a causal direction from blood pressure to neuroticism, but not vice versa,” said Lewina Lee, PhD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Boston University School of Medicine. “I’m curious to hear their thoughts on potential mechanisms and explanations for these findings.”

However, previous research has already shown that neuroticism – and related psychological states – can have negative impacts on overall health.

For example, two studios – in 2007 And 2013 – linked higher levels of neuroticism to a higher risk of death from cardiovascular disease.

However, Lee said, because of the way the studies were designed, the participants may have had cardiovascular disease to begin with. “So there’s not enough information to say whether neuroticism caused the development of cardiovascular disease,” she said.

Other research has examined the health effects of psychological factors closely related to neuroticism.

One meta analysis found a 1.5 times greater risk of developing cardiovascular disease among people with anxiety compared to those without anxiety.

“These results held up even when the analyzes were limited to people with no cardiovascular disease at baseline,” Lee said.

Furthermore, Research shows that depression is a risk factor for coronary artery disease and increases the risk of death in people with existing coronary artery disease.

If neuroticism is linked to poor health outcomes, will treating neuroticism help improve physical health?

Sutin said we still don’t have an answer to that question.

“It has only been in recent years that researchers have rigorously tested whether neuroticism can be changed through intervention,” she said, adding, “it is possible.”

More research is needed to show whether the treatment, which includes medications and cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) – can lead to better health outcomes.

Lee pointed to research showing that treating conditions related to neuroticism — such as anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) — can prevent a recurrence of heart disease.

For example, studies show that stress reduction – like cognitive behavioral therapy And transcendental meditation — may reduce the risk of heart attack, stroke, and other cardiac events in people with existing cardiovascular disease.

But he said research on whether treating PTSD can reduce the risk of developing cardiovascular disease has been mixed.

However, “there’s a lot of room for more research in this area,” he said.

Sutin expects the association between neuroticism and health to go both ways, “so that neuroticism is associated with poor health outcomes, but poor health can also increase neuroticism.”

“Breaking this cycle will be important for improving long-term health and well-being,” she said.


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