Stress Response Predicts Future Blood Pressure

Jun 25, 2004 03:46 AM EDT

Recent research has found that high-strung young adults are more likely to suffer from high blood pressure later in life.

According to the researchers, the study, published online in the journal Circulation, adds a new perspective to the ongoing debate over how stress affects the body.

5,115 Participants followed since 1980s

Researchers examined statistics from the nationwide CARDIA study, which has been tracking the heart health of thousands of Americans since the mid-1980s. When the study began, the 5,115 participants were 18 to 30 years old and lived in the cities of Chicago, Minneapolis, Birmingham and Oakland.

Early in the study, researchers studied how the participants’ blood pressure responded to three stress tests. In one test, the subjects plunged a hand into ice-cold water and kept it there for 45 seconds. In another, they took part in a brain-straining exercise in which they had to trace the shape of a star using its mirror image. In the final test they played a 1980s-era video game.

Subjects especially susceptible to stress

Researchers followed the participants every few years since the beginning of the study. In the new study, the scientists looked at the blood pressure levels of the remaining participants 13 years after the stress tests. At that time, the participants were in their 30s and 40s.

While it is natural for blood pressure to rise as people undergo stress, results showed it increased to very high levels in some of the young adults. Scientists added that subjects appeared to be especially susceptible to stressful events, which wasn't favorable for their future health.

Research followed diverse group

Scientists found that subjects who had the greatest elevations in their response were more likely to develop higher blood pressure later in life. It didn't matter whether the participants were closely matched in age, education level and body type or not. Also, those who were most stressed as young adults developed high blood pressure earlier than their counterparts.

The findings are especially useful because the researchers looked at a diverse group of people from a variety of occupations. Previous studies, which showed contradictory results, looked at specific groups of people, such as medical students. Some experts speculate that genetics may make some people respond differently to stress. Psychological factors could play a role as well.


1. M.A. Whooley; et al., “Blood Pressure Reactivity to Psychological Stress Predicts Hypertension in the CARDIA Study,” Circulation, Jun 2004:10.1161/01.