Internet withdrawal may raise heart rate, blood pressure

The study is the first controlled-experimental demonstration of physiological changes as a result of Internet exposure.

By Amy Wallace
A new study shows that Internet withdrawal leads to increased blood pressure and heart rate. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI
A new study shows that Internet withdrawal leads to increased blood pressure and heart rate. Photo by Stephen Shaver/UPI | License Photo

May 31 (UPI) -- Researchers at Swansea University have found some people who use the Internet have significant increases in heart rate and blood pressure from stopping use.

"We have known for some time that people who are over-dependent on digital devices report feelings of anxiety when they are stopped from using them, but now we can see that these psychological effects are accompanied by actual physiological changes," Professor Phil Reed, of Swansea University, said in a press release.


The study consisted of 144 participants age 18 to 33 who had their heart rate and blood pressure measured along with anxiety and self-reported Internet-addiction before and after a brief Internet session.

Researchers found increases in physiological arousal on terminating Internet session for individuals with high usage -- increases in heart rate and blood pressure -- coinciding with increases in anxiety.

The changes were found in individuals who had problematic-high Internet usage but not in those with no Internet-usage problems.

The study showed an average 3 percent to 4 percent increase in heart rate and blood pressure, and in some double that, immediately after termination of Internet use compared to before use in individuals with digital-behavior problems.


"Whether problematic internet use turns out to be an addiction involving physiological and psychological withdrawal effects -- or whether compulsions are involved that do not necessitate such withdrawal effects -- is yet to be seen, but these results seem to show that, for some people, it is likely to be an addiction," Professor Roberto Truzoli, of Milan University, said.

Researchers also found that participants spent an average of 5 hours a day on the Internet with 20 percent spending over 6 hours a day using the Internet. Over 40 percent of participants reported some level of Internet-related problems such as spending too much time online.

Internet addiction affected men and women equally, and the most common reasons for using digital devices were social media and shopping.

The study was published in PLOS One.

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