Fluctuating Blood Pressure: Causes And How To Treat It

Fluctuating Blood Pressure: Causes And How To Treat It

Blood pressure is the pressure placed on the walls of arteries when blood is pumped through them. Typically, a healthy person’s blood pressure fluctuates throughout the day in response to a variety of factors, some of which include physical activity, stress or emotions. However, significant fluctuation may be a sign of a more serious condition.

Read on to learn more about fluctuating blood pressure, how it’s diagnosed, risk factors and available treatment options.

What Is Fluctuating Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure measures the amount of pressure blood puts on the walls of a person’s arteries. “Fluctuating blood pressure refers to a condition where someone’s blood pressure fluctuates significantly over time, potentially becoming dangerously irregular,” says Laura Purdy, M.D., a board-certified family medicine physician and chief medical officer of OpenLoop, a digital health care company.

As arteries carry blood from the heart to the rest of the body, their functionality is crucial to a person’s health. Blood pressure is measured with two readings:

  • Systolic blood pressure measures the pressure being placed on the arteries while the heart is beating.
  • Diastolic blood pressure measures the pressure being placed on the arteries in between heart beats, while the heart is resting.

Fluctuating blood pressure (labile hypertension) is blood pressure that’s difficult to keep within a healthy physiologic range, adds Alexandra Kharazi, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon at CVTS Medical Group Inc in San Diego, California and author of Heart of Fear.

A normal blood pressure reading sits below 120/80 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is defined by readings higher than 130/80 mmHg in stage 1 and more than 140/90 mmHg for stage 2 hypertension[1]. If a person’s blood pressure changes quickly between readings without an obvious reason, they’re considered to have fluctuating blood pressure.

“When blood pressure continually fluctuates outside its usual range, it should be cause for alarm and potentially require professional medical help,” says Dr. Purdy.

What Causes Fluctuating Blood Pressure?

Several factors can cause fluctuating blood pressure, including:

  • Stress. “Blood pressure is supposed to go up as a response to stressful situations,” explains Mark Drucker, M.D., owner of the Center for Advanced Medicine and lead doctor at Beyond Slim, a healthy living community based in Encinitas, California. “During stressful situations, blood pressure increases to get more blood to vital organs, such as the brain or muscles. However, when the stress is over, blood pressure needs to come back down.”
  • White coat syndrome. Some people find that their blood pressure readings are higher when they visit a health care provider’s office. Known as “white coat syndrome,” this condition is caused by anxiety, nervousness or previous negative experiences within health care and affects up to one in three people, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)[2].
  • Medications. “Some medications, such as decongestants, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and certain antidepressants may lead to unpredictable fluctuations in blood pressure as an unexpected side effect,” says Dr. Purdy.
  • Stimulants. Stimulants, such as cocaine and methamphetamine, can cause blood pressure spikes, according Dr. Kharazi.
  • Hormonal changes and pregnancy. “Shifting hormone levels can significantly impact blood pressure levels,” explains Dr. Purdy. Hormone levels change with a person’s age, which can alter blood pressure in both men and women. Pregnancy can also alter a person’s blood pressure readings and cause patients to develop hypertension or preeclampsia, a serious high blood pressure disorder that affects all organs in the body of a pregnant person. Preeclampsia can also cause strokes and seizures to occur.
  • Underlying health conditions. A number of pre-existing health conditions can cause fluctuating blood pressure, including Parkinson’s disease, kidney disease and diabetes. A type of tumor known as a pheochromocytoma can also cause hypertension or fluctuating blood pressure, as it can release hormones that affect a person’s blood pressure, according to Dr. Kharazi.
  • Diet. Eating a diet high in salt, particularly in people with underlying high blood pressure or who are sensitive to sodium, can cause dangerous spikes in blood pressure adds Dr. Kharazi. Drinking alcohol and caffeine, especially right before a blood pressure reading is taken, can also casue fluctuations in a person’s blood pressure.
  • Exercise. The amount a person exercises can impact their blood pressure, especially if the reading is taken soon after they complete strenuous exercise. Exercise increases blood pressure temporarily and may cause it to drop below baseline for a short period after during recovery.
  • Smoking. Smoking can cause a temporary blood pressure spike, which may influence a person’s fluctuating blood pressure.
  • Pain. High blood pressure can also be a result of acute and chronic pain, specifically in older people with orthopedic conditions.

You can read the rest of this article about Fluctuating Blood Pressure in Forbes Health.

share this with someone

Before to Beyond Stories