Blood Pressure Rose When Let Down by Friends

High blood pressure developed in older women who felt criticized by friends or extended family

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) Older middle-aged women who feel unappreciated by their friends or family may have more than their feelings hurt — their health may take a hit as well.

New research has suggested that women who have unpleasant social experiences may have a higher risk for high blood pressure.

"Ask you doctor about ways to lower your blood pressure."

This study was conducted by Carnegie Mellon University researchers Rodlescia Sneed, a PhD candidate in psychology, and Sheldon Cohen, PhD, professor of psychology.

Using data from the Health and Retirement Study, these researchers studied 1,502 people (899 women and 603 men) aged 50 and older.

The participants did not have hypertension (high blood pressure) when enrolled in 2006. They were deemed to have high blood pressure if they were on medication to lower their blood pressure, or if they had a resting systolic (the top number) blood pressure of 140 or higher or diastolic (lower number) blood pressure of 90 or more.

These participants were asked to fill out questionnaires about their interactions with friends, family, spouse/partner and children. These questions gauged negative interactions. For example, they asked whether these friends and family got on participants' nerves, whether they criticized participants or made too many demands. Participants were also asked about positive interactions, such as how much they could rely on friends or relatives and how much they could open up to them. Answers were scored on a range from 1 (none or never) to 4 (a lot).

After four years, the same participants had their blood pressure checked again.

In those four years, 29.6 percent of participants (445) developed high blood pressure.

Men, even those who reported negative interactions with others, were not likely to develop high blood pressure.

It was mainly women who developed high blood pressure, the researchers found, and especially those 51-64 years of age.

Those women who reported negative interactions, feeling let down or criticized were primarily affected when these interactions were with friends or family, but not their partner or their children.

The researchers found that for every one-unit increase in total average negative interactions reported, there was a 38 percent increased chance of developing high blood pressure over four years.

The study authors noted that high blood pressure was notable in the women considered to be of the "sandwich" generation, who felt demands of aging parents and children. "Negative social interactions may only exacerbate the adverse effects of existing life stressors among individuals in this age group,” these authors wrote.

They also acknowledged that the risk for high blood pressure increases with age, which may have contributed to the findings.

In a Carnegie Mellon press release, Sneed noted, “There is a body of evidence in social psychology research suggesting that women care more about and pay more attention to the quality of their relationships. Our findings suggest that women are particularly sensitive to negative interactions, which is consistent with this previous work."

This study was published May 28 in the American Psychological Association journal Health Psychology.

The authors did not disclose any conflicts of interest.

Review Date: 
May 30, 2014
Last Updated:
May 31, 2014