Anxiety, Panic, Blood pressure.

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Hi everyone, 

I am 30 years old. I have always been sporty and never had any serious health issues. In 2015, I was in the last year of my PhD, when I broke my knee. The knee surgery was not good and I was stuck in a rut of going from pillar to post to know what is going to happen. I had a girlfriend who I was about to marry, I had to go to my exchange year to Boston and all of those plans got to a halt due to this injury. I felt really bad about all of this, but I dealt with it and eventually decided to move to Belgium after my PhD. 

Before moving to Belgium, I had to take a health test for the visa and that day changed my otherwise happy life. That day I had to send the medical form at all costs otherwise, I would've lost my job in Belgium and there were a lot of problems to get the test. However when they took the test the doctor took my blood pressure and it was 160/85. He asked me, why is your blood pressure high? Are you stressed? Back then I didn't even know what is high blood pressure and what it means to be in stress. I just shrugged it off. 

Later I called my dad to tell him that the doctor registered this reading. My dad reacted to it in a weird way and told me, that I need to calm down. I have taken my PhD and injury way too seriously and now I have BP problems and this 160 is such a high blood pressure, my brain can get a stroke or I can get a heart attack with this blood pressure and even he has never had a BP reading so high. I hate it that my dad acted so irresponsibly. Don't get me wrong, he is a nice and caring person and he is so ashamed about this reaction after seeing what this did to me. But anyways, I got a bit hyped after listening to my dad. Next morning I woke up and decided to go buy a BP meter. I was worried that I had such a high reading yesterday and wanted to see how am I doing now. I went to buy the BP meter and walla! 160/86 again. That is when I got the first panic attack in my life. 

I couldn't believe that after an entire day I still had 160/86. I thought this is it. My heart is going to fail, it is just a matter of seconds that I will get a stroke. Then the typical panic attack symptoms started to rush in. I didn't know about any of them back then. Feeling weak, feeling dizzy, heart pounding, slight chest pain. I thought that this is a heart attack. I have never felt so scared in my life. Somehow all that passed after a few minutes, leaving me completely shaken. I went to the doctor and they said its nothing. It's not even a very high blood pressure. (at that time the reading was 140/80). 

I developed an obsession for BP after that. I would measure it 20 times a day. Anytime it was higher than 120, I would get stressed. Eventually, I found out, my bp goes up as soon as I put the machine on me. I saw it once in a matter of minutes, go from 120 to 170 and at that time I got into a bad panic attack. I went out and started running, I took a bath and after every activity checked my BP to see if it is back to normal again. Only to find it higher than 120. Ofcourse, I didn't know what anxiety and Panic is at that time, so I thought all of these are signs of a heart attack and I am going to die soon.

I got into the worst period of my life. I got a panic attack once more. I was inside an airplane and just a thought came to me that what if I get a heart attack here? That's it, it got so bad I was about to run off to the attendant to let me off on the taxi way. It was horrible, I cried perhaps the only time I remember in my entire adult life in that period because I felt a real pain. My body was my prison and there was extreme helplessness as to how I can get rid of this feeling of gloom and doon. I was so ashamed that I am going through this. I worried for my career, my relationships ... I was supposed to be smart. I finished my PhD in Robotics, getting the best PhD award in Engineering in entire Italy. People thought of me as a guy who things in control. And here I was battling my existence like a freak, thinking I am about to die, losing interest in everything. I was perpetually looking for symptoms of heart attack and high blood pressure. 

Then I moved to Belgium and saw a proper doctor on long term basis. She told me after the exams that I have an anxiety to BP. I have no high BP, but due to anxiety and panic, it shoots up every time I measure it. I got it measured twice and the second time it was 120/80. I was happy. I decided not to check my bp again and went back to my life. 6 months I had a great time. I was able to drink, party, eat red meat in a bbq. At work, I filed a patent, did 2 publications, went to conferences, got a promotion at my new job. Got a great home, a new car ... best six months ever. Everything was back to normal and as perfect as I could want. I was so happy, I used to boast about it to myself that, this is my biggest success. 

But there was this tiny little doubt in my mind, that you know, this perfect 120/80 was maybe a one-off reading and maybe I have high BP which is killing my heart and kidneys while I am enjoying and thinking everything is ok. Finally one day when I was feeling very good. I saw my BP meter lying around and decided to give it a try. BAD BAD DECISION. I said to myself if I get a nice reading then that is it. I will feel better. If not, I should do something about it, as high BP is a curable disease. I checked it and as soon as I put my bp meter on me. I felt my breath getting irregular. When I heard the sound of the bp meter inflating, my heart got racing. Anyways, I took a deep breath and acted as if I am calm. The reading came ... 160/83. I couldn't believe it. I tried to calm myself down and took another reading and this time it was even higher 168/88. I felt sick in my stomach. I tried to laugh off these readings, but the damage was done. I went out and the thought of blood pressure continuously rising kept my anxiety increasing until I got into panic. I didnt want to goto doctor, I didnt want to go inside my home. Everything felt like it would make the panic, anxiety and resulting BP worse. But this time I had read about it enough to know its a panic attack due. So I dealt with it much better. I just stayed silent on a side untill the fleeting thoughts, rush of blood, heart pounding went away. I still felt unwell and anxious all day, but not in extreme panic. Next day I went to my doctor, she told me to throw that BP meter away and said that when I am feeling better, we would measure it by the all-day meter to check if I need some meds to lower the BP.

Now, I've quit smoking completely, I don't drink, I don't take caffeine in any form, I eat minimum salt, I don't take sugar, I eat healthy, I bike 8 km every day, I swim 1 hour a day, I meditate 20 mins everyday. I know that my BP is due to my anxiety around it. I know my problem is not my BP but my anxiety around it. I am doing everything to get back to normal. But this, time it is different. I can't control my anxiety even after knowing all of that.

First, I am afraid of getting a panic attack. Then I seem to get panic/anxiety out of nowhere. For example, today a colleague told me that her cat died from a stroke. I got a rush of panic in my head for a few seconds and I wanted to leave the conversation and run. I can control it, as I know this is my mind's stupid flight or fight response. I know the trauma of BP has wired my brain for panic. But it is not nice at all to live like this. I have a surgery next month to take out the screws in my knee. I might be feeling great otherwise and then I would say to myself, oh wow, I feel so good. Finally no anxiety but then I think that for this surgery, I will be made to measure my BP and this will probably tick off my panic. I imagine being in a room with a new nurse, who won't know about my BP induced panic. She will measure the BP and it will come as 180/90. She will be alarmed and tell me this is high. She will check again and this would be above 200! at which point I would just get so anxious, nothing they do will help and my heart would simply fail . Then, I say to myself, ah eff it, I won't get my BP checked and go into the surgery. But then the very very stupid voice in my head says that my BP would raise when I am waiting for surgery. Since I would have not registered my high BP. The anesthetist won't give me a tranquilizing dose that can cater for high BP. So as they tranquilize me for surgery, My BP would rise and I would die during the surgery from a heart attack. Now even writing this makes me ashamed as to why I think like that. I know that this is not likely to happen and this is not how medical professionals will deal with my BP. But tell this to my brain in its panic mode. 

I feel light headed for no reason sometimes and this could lead to feeling anxious (I dont get full blown panic attacks, but I get anxious as to what if someone comes to my desk now, how would I deal with him/her in such a state of worry). I usually get triggered with sweaty palms (a problem I have had for more than 10 years). Now I associate it with being anxious. Therefore, every time I feel sweaty on plams, I start thinking about why am I stressed now. I don't have no reason. I try to think about good things. I end up thinking about the bloody knee surgery and the BP. Then I usually feel a pulse somewhere and I say to myself, see the BP is high. All you are doing is running away. Then I feel light headed and I feel like, ok now it is high enough to give me a stroke. At this point I am quite frozen and don't want anyone to see me. But after a few deep breathing exercises and effort, I can get back to normal. 

However, all this is taking a toll on me. I feel my entire day is a battle between anxiety and fighting back to being normal. I have a constant underlying fear of measuring my BP again, which is inevitable for my knee surgery. I have fear that by not measuring it, maybe my high BP is going undiagnosed. More worrying than that, any mention related to heart, stroke, kidneys can give me a more severe than normal, rush of anxiety. I am super tired and all I want is to control this anxiety and not have any panic. I don't know how to control this General Anxiety. Because I have NO REASON for that. Even if I have BP, it is controllable, so why is my brain not working rationally. 

How can I win this everyday struggle. I am doing all I can. I am going to do all I can until a day comes, when I can just go back to living without this constant fear of BP, anxiety, stress and in extreme cases panic. I would really appreciate some help in getting out of it. 

I wish all of you battling something similar the best of luck and health. I am also sorry for this long description. 

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4 Replies

  • Posted

    160/85 isn't that worryingly high.

    What you seem to have is what can be called white coat syndrome, it's getting stressed when you're having a reading done, particularly by a doctor and it pumps your Bp up.

    I get it, mine was 160/90 last time I went and it freaked me out but I had been stressing about going to the doctor all day and it worked me up.

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  • Posted

    Yah there is such a thing as anxiety BP. I get it sometimes when I go to the doctor. I'm constantly checking my BP as well. I actually have an app on my phone, from the reviews it's a legit app. For the most part it's normal so.

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    • Posted

      Thank you so much Mackie. Right now my problem is not the BP but the continuous anxiety that I have around heart, heatlh and stroke. Even when I am not thinking about it I get these fleeting moments of panic for absolutely no reason. This wasnt like this a few weeks ago. 

      Now even if I get a comment on my health related post, I feel a second of panic, somehow it says, what if what they have written would make me panic and I wont feel as good as I am feeling now. 

      Its a bit crazy. I know. But this is my battle everyday these days. I hope I and anyone else with such a problem feels better soon.

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  • Posted

    Hi ViperMaverick, 

    First of all well done for a very open description of what you are going through. It is important to understand that you are not going insane, you are not "stupid" by any stretch of the imagination and what you are going through is a perfectly normal bodily reaction. 

    I won't try and diagnose you, neither should anyone else on a discussion board might I add however as somebody who has suffered from similar I will share my experiences and see if you can relate to them. 

    My experiences started a couple of years ago, prior to that I too have always considered myself to be a fairly fit and happy go lucky person. I played football regularly and to a decent standard and my social life has always been fairly busy and stuff.....Not that there is a type of person in particular who is susceptible to anxiety however I would have never have predicted it for myself if you get what I mean?

    It all began after a bad hayfever season, the pollen was high and my hayfever tablets weren't particularly effective so I decided to go and see my GP to see if he could help in any way. He changed me over to a different antihistamine and unfortunately for me I ended up being allergic to it and had a bit off a rough allergic reaction which I now understand to have been my trigger for all of my anxiety. 

    I guess the allergic reaction brought about a realization that I am far from invicible and I too like everybody else can have things go wrong with my body. Once something like this happens it is quite easy to zone in on it all and to worry about it whether this be consciously or subconsciously. This doesn't happen to everyone and it doesn't make us stupid or weak in any way, shape or form. It is a perfectly normal reaction that can happen to any one of us.

    I think a large part of Health Anxiety is the unknown or at least it was for me....

    -Something strange had happened with my body and I didn't know why?

    - Did this mean my body had underlying issues?

    - Was I a ticking time bomb waiting to happen?

    I think a great deal of this comes down to not knowing my own body and to not understanding how the human body works and stuff. But at the end of the day not many people do understand it all do they, after all we have no real reason to understand it all.....

    ............................................................................................................................

    From Health Anxiety to Panic Attacks 

    ............................................................................................................................

    As I both consciously and sub-conbsciously began to think about my reaction it was inevitable that I started to question my own body. All of the above questions began to spring into my mind. Part of my allergic reaction brought about Heart palpitations and a racing pulse and due to the fact that I wasn't a doctor, suddenly I started to think the worse as opposed to being rational. The truth of the matter is that my body had disagreed with the medication and the side effects were a simple bodily reaction to this......But when you develop health anxiety suddenly rational explanations don't seem feasible any more and we begin to think the worse all of the time.......I began to question whether I had some sort of underlying heart condition along with many of things.

    I decided to go and see my doctor again to tell him how I felt. Unfortunately for me I didn't understand much of what was going on therefore I probably wasn't as open as I would have liked to have been about how I was feeling and due to this the doctor made a quick decision for me to try an anti-depressant (citalopram) which I now regret completely as it was only to set me back.

    ..............................................................................................................................

    Understanding Panic Attacks

    ..............................................................................................................................

    Whilst anti-depressants might work for some people, Citalopram didn't work in the slightest for me...In fact I now see it as quite the opposite as all it did was intensify everything that was going on for me, this sort of sent my mind into overdrive and before I knew it I was having intense panic attacks on a daily basis.

    Without intending on insulting you I think having a basic grasp of how the mind and human body works helps us to understand Anxiety and Panic Attacks. I know for me it was learning a basic understanding that helped me finally get on the road towards recovery. 

    The mind is a ridiculously complex thing as we all know and even now specialists don't completely understand why some people are more susceptible to certain things than others....In relation to anxiety and panic attacks, diagnostic tests can confirm a panic attack as such but even now there is still a great bit of unknown as to the causes and whilst certain things such as CBT can help in some cases, this isn't always the case......

    So what are panic attacks?

    I think it is important to know that no panic attack is exactly the same for everybody. We all suffer panic attacks of a different sort of intensity, this is down to the sufferer however certain things remain the same in regards to the science behind them. 

    Again it is really important to realise that panic attacks are a perfectly normal bodily reaction. They don't happen because we are stupid or weak! They happen because of certain circumstances or happenings, we all have different triggers and there are two things that you need to understand!

    - Anxiety and panic attacks in particular are an illness in their own right. The fact that you have specific symptoms make them so. 

    - *But most importantly* - I say this again.... Panic Attacks are a perfectly normal bodily reaction...and whilst they are incredibly scary at the time, they are pretty harmless!

    Fight or flight..........

    As we become more aware of certain situations, we can become susceptible to fixating on them. Sometimes this is pretty obvious but at other times we may be sub-consciously doing so. This might happen over a short period of time for some and for others it may happen over a long period of time however some people have a tendency to allow things to build up over a period of time and eventually we reach some sort of boiling point where things begin to come to the surface as opposed to tucking them away in the back of our mind. 

    We have a whole range of chemicals in our body that all serve a different purpose and anxiety and stress have certain effects on all of these over a period of time. 

    Some people might not present with full blown panic attacks as such however constantly worry about things, again this can be consciously or sub-consciously and as a result the body compensates and our normal body ranges fluctuate in order to deal with it all.....Whether it be anger, upset, happiness, stress or whatever the emotion, the human body is cleverly designed in such a way that in compensates and adapts in certain ways in order to deal with a whole range of emotions and scenarios.......This can be a change in heart rate, blood pressure etc but it is all perfectly normal and in the short term quite harmless.

    Panic attacks occur without prior warning and they are incredibly scary however understanding the above is key towards understanding what is happening to your body during a panic attack and in the long term it can help to get on top of them....I know that it did for me. 

    How can I describe my panic attacks?

    Suddenly with no prior warning and for some unknown reason I found that I had zoned in on my health anxiety and became filled with dread. I didn't know why but I felt some sort of impending doom as such....Something serious was going wrong, I was in some sort of danger, I wasn't well at all and somebody needed to do something quickly because I felt like I was about to die or something....I didn't know what was going on or why but it was bad, very bad and I needed help!....

    Sound familiar?

    (The fact that I have previously been zoning in on my heart and stuff made this worse because I was pretty convinced that something was going on with my heart and lungs therefore something bad was imminently going to happen)

    Suddenly my heart began to race and I couldn't keep still...I was convinced that I had to do something and quickly became worked up......It all happens pretty quickly but you begin to fixate on certain things.....You begin to lose control of normality as such and become really erratic in regards to normal things.....You might feel like you can't breath properly therefore you begin the rush your breathing (overwise known as hyperventilating), this can cause tingling in your hands or even lips and face.......If things become really intense you might even feel dizzy or like you are going to pass out.....

    I am sure a good few sufferers can easily relate to all of the above or at least some of it???

    But why does this happen?............

    Actually it is a really clever process, one that is perfectly normal and one that won't do you any harm!

    FIGHT OR FLIGHT!!

    The easiest way to understand it all is to imagine yourself being chased by a tiger (far fetched I know but hear me out). The bodily reaction to this is to run and our body triggers a defence mechanism in order to help us to do so. 

    Panic attacks happen in the same respect.....We tell our body that something is wrong therefore we trigger "fight or flight", a defence mechanism in which adrenaline is released and in turn the body compensates in order to deal with it all......

    Our mind tells the body that it is in danger even though it isn't.......The body releases a sudden rush of adrenaline in order to help!.........It is sort of a chain of reactions!....The body needs more oxygen and energy to deal with what it going on therefore the mind instructs the heart to beat faster in order to produce more etc etc. 

    It is almost like a car coming to a hill......In order to get up the hill you need more revs or acceleration to get up the hill.......This is what the body is doing!........Producing what your mind has tricked it into thinking it needs in order to deal with the task at hand!........PERFECTLY NORMAL and PERFECTLY HARMLESS!!..........

    ................................................................................................................................

    So after all of this waffling on, how does any of this relate to you?

    Well as I said at the beginning of this long winded essay Viper, i'm not your GP mate therefore i'm not going to attempt to diagnose you.....What I can do though is relate to certain things and make suggestions based on my experiences and knowledge. 

    From what I gather.....

    You have undergone a good few stresses over the last few years. Like me you just try and get on with life and move by putting it all to the back of your mind.....Every now and again you begin to think about things whether it be consciously or sub-consciously, which is evidence in it's own right that these things do bother you. 

    This is natural and we all deal with things in our own ways....We are all guilty of bottling things up to a certain extent....Now I am not saying that this is the case with you however the fact that you felt the need to tell us about these stages of your life somewhat points out that you personally feel them relevant.

    What I do see however is a pattern of health anxiety that at least seems familiar to me?........

    You went to GP on a particular day and unfortunately you had slightly elevated blood pressure!....He asked you if you had been stressed and stuff which in turn led you to believe that something might be wrong?

    You then went on to speak to your dad about it and he also suggested that you may need to calm down and stuff....

    All in all these things have then become your TRIGGERS as such and have led to further health anxiety.

    Whether consciously or sub-consciously, you allow yourself to worry about the higher than normal blood pressure reading and due to this all rational explanations are thrown out of the window (or at least that was the case for me).

    More simple and rational explanations to elevated blood pressure may be the every day stresses of life, an infection or even "white coat syndrome" as suggested above....I am not stating that any of these are the case but they are all highly feasible, normal explanations!

    One simple trigger can be a route in which you channel all of your anxieties and it just builds up and builds up.

    This is strictly out of context with why opinions above and I am in no way or shape using my experiences to diagnose you, this can only be done by a Doctor! Please understand this!.....However I have now used my experiences towards something positive. My severe anxiety, health axiety and panic attacks have all driven me towards an interest in the human body and health in general and due to this I have now qualified and have a career in the Ambulance Service.

    The reason I tell you this is that I now have a greater understanding of recording blood pressure and how individual things can quickly increase our blood pressure and give high readings etc. 

    In pre hospital care we take into consideration a whole range of considerations and always record things multiple times.....Why do I say this?

    You mentioned Heart Attacks and Strokes?......My guesses being that you have seen something on TV or even googled your syptoms? These are big no-no's in my opinion because all you are doing is fuelling your mind with more negative things to worry about. 

    You then mentioned monitoring your own blood pressure which unless instructed by a doctor is again a big no-no because certain factors can elevate blood pressure.

    For instance I know that if I feel unwell or stressed my blood pressure will be slightly to moderately elevated.....However if I decided to put the cuff on and take my blood pressure I know that I will instantly begin to worry about what the reading will be......Whilst the machine is reading I might subsciously or even consciously do thing in hope of achieving a lower result.......I might alter my pattern of breathing, possibly try to slow it down a bit and try to be calm?.....But even still a chain of different reactions are going on because you are telling yourself that something might be wrong which in turn can raise blood pressure.....Altering your pattern of breathing again can alter your blood pressure.....and whilst you think you might be controlling your breathing you may even be sub consciously speeding it up or even holding your breath etc........Anything from coughing, to talking, to the slightest movement to our thoughts can all effect a blood pressure reading!......This is why it should be left a doctor.......

    Of course a second reading opens a whole new can of worms.....You have a raised reading to worry about and this is beginning to stress you out further therefore it is pretty normal to see that a second reading will have gone up further as you begin to stress yourself out......

    Why did I mention my job within the Ambulance service?.......

    Most certainly not to diagnose you but to give you an understanding.....We record key observations more once. This is done for multiple reasons, the main one being to monitor change!....

    When people are injured or ill it is pretty normal that they become stress, anxious and worried........This means that the first blood pressure reading that I take might be much higher but only due to stress and worry (of course not in all cases) however 5 minutes later as the patient realises that we are there and treating that and things are okay, the blood pressure will sub-consciously begin to drop and look much better!........

    ...............................................................................................................................

    FIRST AND FOREMOST :- If you havemn't already done so, get yourself back off to the GP. Outline your concerns and have all of the testing done.....The GP should be your first point of call as they can perform a whole range of tests to rule out all of the scary things that you are fixating one.

    ONLY THEN......

    Can you work on the root causes. You don't need to do this alone, you could always go and see your GP and seek a referral for CBT. 

    You need to gain a basic understanding of what is it exactly that you are worried about?

    You need to understand that a great deal of what is going on with you is a perfectly normal bodily reaction.

    You have made some fantastic lifestyle changes by the sounds of things. These in turn will lead to a much healthier body so a massive well done for those!

    It is a cycle mate it really is and I know first hand that it is a horrible one and for me it was one that I never thought I would be able to break out of. I can't give you these answers what so ever however I can tell you what has worked for me. We all react differently and certain things work for certain people but not for others....

    But things can and do get better!

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