Health Psychology is both the science and art of when a person’s behaviors interact with their health status. This interaction can take place in overt, very noticeable ways or in ways that are outside of one’s awareness.
A big issue health psychologists often address is stress. The stress response is known to interact with a variety of health problems. Hypertension (HTN) is a health problem where many biological and psychological factors converge. There are two types of HTN, type I and type II. Type one is the more prevalent form and type II is secondary to other pathology such as kidney failure. Type I HTN has a variety of factors that contribute to its development. Some of these factors are well known like genetics, obesity, sedentary life style, and a high sodium diet.
Some factors such as a person’s “personality structure” and environmental stressors are less well defined. The important consideration with HTN management is there are many psychosocial factors that if addressed by a health psychologist can improve the health outcome of patients with HTN. Diet and lifestyle are behavioral issues that can be addressed, with assistance offered. Understanding how a person deals with stress is also an important area for intervention. Yet another area of interest to HTN management is underlying emotional issues like preexisting trauma, depression, or anxiety. These problems increase physiological reactivity and thus increase HTN risk. However, very few patients with HTN speak to a health psychologist.
HTN is a very important sentinel condition appropriate for psychological intervention. HTN is letting the patient know that their body is in need of care and changes. HTN typically develops prior to heart disease, diabetes and other vascular diseases. These chronic conditions could be significantly reduced with aggressive behavioral management of HTN. Patients could benefit from identification of HTN and medication and behavioral management as a part of an overall plan to reduce the burden of future chronic diseases.
Rain Blohm, MS
WKPIC Doctoral Intern