In what may seem an unusual finding, teens with high blood pressure appear to be better psychologically adjusted and enjoy a higher quality of life than those with normal blood pressure, a new study suggests.
Researchers led by Dr. Angela Berendes of the University of Göttingen in Germany speculate on some possible reasons for their surprising results, including “repressed emotions” or a “stress-dampening effect” of high blood pressure.
For the study, the researchers analyzed data on blood pressure, quality of life, and psychological distress in approximately 7,700 teenagers in Germany. About 10.7 percent of the teens had high blood pressure, which was about twice as high as expected, according to the researchers.
The teens with hypertension were more likely to be obese and less physically fit than those with normal blood pressure, the researchers noted. They spent more time watching TV or playing video games and had more adverse health behaviors, including drinking alcohol, the researchers added.
But unexpectedly, teens with high blood pressure were better off in several ways, including being more academically successful than those with normal blood pressure.
Quality of life was also rated better by adolescents with high blood pressure, with higher scores in the areas of family life, self-esteem, and physical well-being, the study found. Teens with high blood pressure were also less likely to have problems with hyperactivity, the researchers noted.
High blood pressure is one of the most frequent chronic conditions, leading to illness and death. It can start in childhood, but remain asymptomatic, causing blood vessel and organ damage if not controlled.
Previous studies have found lower levels of psychological distress in adults who have high blood pressure but are unaware of it. In contrast, quality of life appears to be reduced for adults whose hypertension is diagnosed and treated.
The new study finds similar, “seemingly contradictory” results in adolescents, according to Berendes.
The researchers say they can’t “conclusively explain the associations,” but do discuss some possible theories in their study.
For example, teens who are more achievement-oriented and do better in school may experience increased stress, leading to higher blood pressure — but also to better self-esteem and quality of life.
Or, some teens may repress their negative emotions, causing them to have higher blood pressure, as well as give higher ratings of psychological functioning and quality of life.
Lastly, the researchers speculate that high blood pressure may act to dampen negative emotions. Some previous studies suggested that a rise in blood pressure may reduce perceived stress.
Whatever the explanations, the new study finds “consistent links between high blood pressures, lower distress, and higher quality of life, suggesting a real and epidemiologically relevant association,” Berendes said.
She added that more research is needed to clarify the study implications, particularly in teens who are unaware of their high blood pressure and have yet to experience long-term physical damage.
The study was published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine.
Source: Wolters Kluwer Health