High blood pressure, or hypertension, is commonly defined as a systolic, or top, reading higher than 140 mm Hg and a diastolic, or bottom, reading higher than 90 mm Hg. High blood pressure is a serious condition that can lead to strokes and heart attacks. The most common drugs used to treat hypertension are diuretics, beta blockers, calcium-channel blockers, angiotensin II receptor blockers and angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors. Of these blood-pressure lowering medications, only beta blockers and calcium-channel blockers have been found to relieve the symptoms of anxiety disorders.
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Beta blockers are a class of drugs that decrease the effects of adrenaline and other stress hormones. By blocking adrenaline receptors, they decrease the standard fight-and-flight response triggered by adrenaline, including increased heart rate, respiration and tremors. As these drugs only treat the symptoms of anxiety, they are not suitable as long-term treatments of anxiety disorder or as treatments of anxiety disorders that affect people on a daily basis. Beta blockers are most commonly prescribed for social anxiety and performance anxiety such as fear of public speaking.
Calcium Channel Blockers
Calcium-channel blockers inhibits the calcium conduction of cells' calcium channels. As the force of contraction of heart muscles and the smooth muscles of blood vessels depends on how much calcium is available, blocking calcium channels can reduce heart beat and contractions of the smooth muscles of blood vessels. Calcium-channel blockers may also reduce the excitability of neurons in the brain.
According to "Hypertension Primer: The Essentials of High Blood Pressure," there is no conclusive evidence for a direct link between hypertension and anxiety. However, it is plausible that chronic anxiety, being similar in its effects to chronic stress, can lead to high blood pressure. Furthermore, since hypertension often gives rise to irregular heart beat, nervousness and confusion, its symptoms may be mistaken for an anxiety disorder. When hypertension itself is the cause of anxiety-like symptoms, any medication that successfully lowers blood pressure will help to treat the secondary condition.
- "Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews"; Blood Pressure Lowering Efficacy of Beta-Blockers as Second-Line Therapy for Primary Hypertension; Jenny Chen, et al.; January 2010
- "Nature Neuroscience"; Beyond Extinction: Erasing Human Fear Responses and Preventing the Return of Fear; Merel Kindt, et al.; March 2009
- "Psychiatric Drugs Explained"; David Healy; 2009
- "Annals of Clinical Psychiatry"; Calcium Channel Blockers for Anxiety Disorders?; R. Balon and C. Ramesh; December 1996
- "Hypertension Primer: The Essentials of High Blood Pressure"; Joseph L. Izzo, et al.; 2008