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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Anxiety and depression lowers blood pressure: 22-year follow-up of the population based HUNT study, Norway

Bjørn Hildrum1*, Ulla Romild23 and Jostein Holmen4

Author Affiliations

1 Department of Psychiatry, Namsos Hospital, Nord-Trøndelag Health Trust, Namsos, Norway

2 Department of Research and Development, Namsos Hospital, Nord-Trøndelag Health Trust, Namsos, Norway

3 Swedish National Institute of Public Health, Östersund, Sweden

4 HUNT Research Centre, Faculty of Medicine, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Levanger, Norway

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BMC Public Health 2011, 11:601  doi:10.1186/1471-2458-11-601

Published: 28 July 2011

Abstract

Background

For decades, symptoms of anxiety and depression have been included among psychological factors associated with development of hypertension. Although this has been questioned in recent studies, most findings have been based on a single assessment of mental distress at baseline. We examined these associations using repeated assessments of anxiety, depression and blood pressure.

Methods

Data on 17,410 men and women aged 20 to 67 participating in the Nord-Trøndelag Health Study (HUNT) in Norway in 1984-86 were re-examined 11 and 22 years later. The main outcome was change in mean blood pressure (mm Hg) during follow-up.

Results

We found that a high symptom level score (≥80th percentile) of combined anxiety and depression at baseline, as compared to a lower symptom level, was associated with lower mean systolic (-0.67 mm Hg, p = 0.044) and diastolic (-0.25 mm Hg, p = 0.201) blood pressure at year 22. A high symptom level present at all three examinations was associated with a stronger decrease in mean systolic (-1.59 mm Hg, p = 0.004) and diastolic (-0.78 mm Hg, p = 0.019) blood pressure and with a 20% (p = 0.001) lower risk of developing hypertension (BP ≥140/90 mm Hg) at year 22. The associations were only slightly attenuated in multivariate analyses, with no evidence of a mediating effect of alteration in heart rate.

Conclusions

This study do not support previous hypothesis that emotional stress may be a cause of hypertension. Our findings indicate that symptoms of anxiety and depression are associated with decrease in blood pressure, particularly when a high symptom level can be detected over decades.