Behaviour and hypertension: a pathophysiological puzzle

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Patients with borderline hypertension typically show enhanced sympathetic and decreased parasympathetic tone, characteristic personality traits (submissiveness, hostility) and hyper reactivity to mental stress. It has been proposed that the hypertensive personality results in a persistent 'defence reaction', enhancing sympathetic outflow from the central nervous system and reactivity to stress. But evidence from pharmacological intervention trials suggests that blood pressure reactivity is controlled independently of average baseline blood pressure. A study comparing the effects of the centrally-acting cc2-agonist, clonidine, and the selective pVblocker, atenolol, demonstrated that both drugs had a comparable antihypertensive action on baseline blood pressure. However, neither agent affected stress responses to mental arithmetic, submaximal isometric handgrip exercise or cold pressor testing. We conclude that studies of stress reactivity, while of interest to students of circulatory control, are unlikely to yield insights into the causes of human hypertension

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