Additive pressor effects of caffeine and stress in male medical students at risk for hypertension

Jack D. Shepard, Mustafa Al'Absi, Thomas L. Whitsett, Richard B. Passey, William R. Lovallo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

40 Scopus citations


The effects of caffeine on blood pressure (BP) and cortisol secretion were examined during elevated work stress in medical students at high versus low risk for hypertension. Among 31 male medical students who were regular consumers of caffeine, 20 were considered at low risk for hypertension (negative parental history and all screening BP < 125/78 mm Hg) and 11 at high risk based on epidemiologic criteria (positive parental history and average screening BPs between 125/78 and 139/89 mm Hg). Cortisol levels and ambulatory BP were measured with and without caffeine during two lectures (low work stress) and two exams (high work stress) in a randomized, double-blind, crossover trial. Caffeine consumption and exam stress increased cortisol secretion in both groups (P < .05). BP increased with caffeine or exam stress in both groups, low versus high risk, respectively (Caffeine: + 5/4 vs + 3/3 mm Hg; Stress: + 4/1 vs + 7/3 mm Hg; P < .05). The combination of stress and caffeine caused additive increases in BP (Low Risk + 9/5 mm Hg, High Risk + 10/6 mm Hg) such that 46% of high-risk participants had average systolic BP ≥ 140 mm Hg. This combined effect of stress and caffeine on BP suggests that it may be beneficial for individuals at high risk for hypertension to refrain from the use of caffeinated beverages, particularly at times when work demands and attendant stressors are high. For the same reasons, recent intake of caffeine should be controlled in patients undergoing BP measurement for the diagnosis of hypertension.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)475-481
Number of pages7
JournalAmerican journal of hypertension
Issue number5 II SUPPL.
StatePublished - 2000


  • Ambulatory blood pressure
  • Caffeine
  • Cortisol
  • Hypertension risk
  • Stress


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