Blood pressure very likely to cause neurotic personality trait

Crazy old neurotic woman

Neurotic personality traits refer to a pattern of emotional instability, anxiety, and self-doubt. People with high levels of neurotic traits tend to experience negative emotions such as fear, guilt, and shame and may be more prone to anxiety and mood disorders. They may also have difficulty coping with stress and uncertainty and may display maladaptive behaviors such as avoidance or rumination. While neurotic traits are a normal part of the human experience, high levels of neurotic traits can negatively impact a person’s quality of life and functioning.

Controlling it can help reduce neuroticism, anxiety and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

A new study published in the open-access journal General Psychiatry found that high diastolic blood pressure, the lowest number in a blood pressure reading, is very likely to cause neurotic personality traits.

The researchers also suggest that controlling diastolic blood pressure may help reduce neurotic behaviors, anxiety and the risk of cardiovascular disease.

High blood pressure is a major risk factor for cardiovascular disease and is believed to be linked to psychological factors, such as anxiety, depression and neuroticism – a personality trait characterized by sensitivity to negative emotions, including anxiety and depression.

But what causes what is not entirely clear.

To find out, the researchers used a technique called Mendelian randomization. This uses genetic variants as proxies for a particular risk factor – in this case blood pressure – to obtain genetic evidence to support a causal relationship, reducing the biases inherent in observational studies.

Between 30% and 60% of blood pressure is due to genetic factors, and more than 1000 genetic single-nucleotide polymorphisms, or SNPs for short, are associated with it. SNPs help predict a person’s response to certain medications, sensitivity to environmental factors, and their risk of developing disease.

The researchers draw from 8 large-scale study datasets that include the entire genome[{” attribute=””>DNA extracted from blood samples from people of predominantly European ancestry (genome-wide association studies).

They applied Mendelian randomization to the 4 traits of blood pressure—systolic blood pressure (736,650 samples), diastolic blood pressure (736,650), pulse pressure (systolic minus diastolic blood pressure; 736,650), and high blood pressure (above 140/90 mm Hg; 463,010) with 4 psychological states—anxiety (463,010 samples), depressive symptoms (180,866), neuroticism (170,911) and subjective wellbeing (298,420).

The analysis revealed that high blood pressure and diastolic blood pressure had significant causal effects on neuroticism, but not on anxiety, depressive symptoms, or subjective well-being.

But after adjusting for multiple tests, only diastolic blood pressure was significantly associated with neuroticism (over 90%), based on 1074 SNPs.

The researchers acknowledge certain limitations to their findings. For example, it wasn’t possible to completely exclude pleiotropy–where one gene can affect several traits. And the findings may not be more widely applicable beyond people of European ancestry.

But blood pressure links the brain and the heart, and so may promote the development of personality traits, they explain.

“Individuals with neuroticism can be sensitive to the criticism of others, are often self-critical, and easily develop anxiety, anger, worry, hostility, self-consciousness, and depression.

“Neuroticism is viewed as a key causative factor for anxiety and mood disorders. Individuals with neuroticism more frequently experience high mental stress, which can lead to elevated [blood pressure] and cardiovascular disease,” they write.

And they suggest, “Appropriate monitoring and control of blood pressure may be beneficial for the reduction of neuroticism, neuroticism-inducing mood disorders, and cardiovascular disease.”

Reference: “Exploring genetic causal relationships between blood pressure and anxiety, depressive symptoms, neuroticism and subjective well-being” by Lei Cai, Yonglin Liu and Lin He, November 21, 2022, General Psychiatry.
DOI: 10.1136/gpsych-2022-100877

The study was funded by the Natural Science Foundation of Shanghai.

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