Can my job cause high blood pressure?

Ask the doctors

Q. I have a very stressful job, and recently my blood pressure readings started going up. Could my job stress be the reason why?

A. Yes, chronic stress can affect blood pressure. Several hormones affect your heart’s rhythm, including epinephrine and norepinephrine. When these hormone levels rise, your heart starts to work harder. Stress hormones can also constrict your blood vessels, causing temporary blood pressure spikes.

Chronic stress may expose you to more of these hormones, which can raise your blood pressure in general, even when you’re not in a stressful moment. Doctors diagnose high blood pressure after a series of measurements reveal elevated values, beyond these temporary elevations. Stress can also trigger some people to adopt unhealthy habits that might put their cardiovascular health at risk, including overeating, not exercising, not getting enough sleep, and misusing drugs or alcohol. When you can’t change a stressful job situation, you can adopt some stress reduction techniques to manage your symptoms, such as meditation, deep breathing, or regular exercise. For additional tips to help you reduce stress, consult the Harvard Special Health Report Stress Management, available at

— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Toni Golen, M.D.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women’s Health Watch


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