Blood pressure refers to the amount of force your blood is exerting on your blood vessels. The most effective way that your body controls your blood pressure is through vasoconstriction and vasodilation.
During these processes, the smooth muscles surrounding your blood vessels get tighter or looser forcing the blood to go through a smaller space or a larger space. The smaller space the blood has to move through, the more pressure it will exert on the walls, which in turn increases the blood pressure.
There are a variety of factors that might cause vasoconstriction in your body, but a stress response, a meal, or time of day are three of the most common reasons for a sudden increase in your blood pressure.
What Are the Classifications of Blood Pressure?
Blood pressure can come in a few stages:
- Low blood pressure (hypotension) is below 90/60 mm HG, but the term hypotension is sometimes used to refer to a relative decrease in blood pressure. Fatigue, nausea, and fainting are not uncommon at this stage.
- Normal blood pressure is generally anything below 120/80 mm HG
- Elevated blood pressure (prehypertension) represents blood pressure ranging between 120-129 mm HG systole and below 80 mm Hg diastole.
- Stage 1 represents blood pressure ranging between 130-139 mm Hg systole and 80-89 mm Hg diastole.
- Stage 2 represents a blood pressure ranging 140+ mm Hg systole and 90+ mm Hg diastole
- A hypertensive Crisis is blood pressure above 180/120 mm Hg. If this is your blood pressure call 911.
Blood pressure is one health metric that tends to slowly increase with age, but it is also highly correlated with heart disease and stroke when it reaches the stage of hypertension, i.e. high blood pressure.
Knowing if you have high blood pressure during a resting state is an important first step for understanding your heart health, and it can help you identify sudden changes.
Stress-Induced High Blood Pressure
Now that you know the basic blood pressure classifications and where you might fall on this scale, you might be able to identify sudden blood pressure spikes. One really common cause of blood pressure spikes in your body’s stress response.
Usually, in a healthy person, the effect stress has on your body is acute, short-term, and beneficial. However, chronic stress can have adverse health outcomes.
In response to either physical or emotional stress, your sympathetic nervous system floods your bloodstream with a hormone made by your adrenal glands called cortisol.
Cortisol is meant for short-term survival situations, activating the “fight-or-flight” stress response, a natural mechanism that your body needs for otherwise dangerous situations.
This “fight-or-flight” response prepares your body for action by increasing heart rate and causing vasoconstriction, both of which increase your blood pressure. This sudden increase in blood pressure is beneficial to your survival in nearly every scenario, however, there have been some studies
that show even these short emotional stress responses can cause heart attacks in people who have a high resting blood pressure.
But when you are chronically stressed, the continued presence of cortisol can be tough on your body, creating wear and tear on your blood vessels that can lead to more chronic forms of high blood pressure.
Stress can also contribute to other factors that can negatively impact your heart health including fat storage, overeating, insomnia, and hormone imbalance.
Reducing stress is a great way to help lower your blood pressure.
Here are a few great techniques:
- Engage your social support
- Engage the present moment
- Practice yoga
- Get quality sleep
- Spend time in nature
- Create a stress-free space
Essential Oils for Stress
- Ylang ylang
- Clary Sage
High Blood Pressure After Eating
Another potential cause of sudden blood pressure might be a reaction to food. Typically it is best practice to measure your blood pressure before eating, because if you measure it after you eat you may find that it’s outside of your normal range.
Initial studies on this metric found that younger people had no variation before or after eating while older adults would generally have a decline in blood pressure. Future studies revealed that this difference between age ranges was not due to medication.
The research went on to discover that the variability of blood pressure change after eating was directly correlated with the degree of plaque buildup in the arteries. Their data even suggests that a significant drop or increase in blood pressure after eating can be a predictor of plaque build-up, called atherosclerosis.
What is Atherosclerosis?
Atherosclerosis is a significant predictor of heart attacks across the world. Atherosclerosis builds up over a long period of time and the root cause is almost always poor diet and exercise habits.
When we consume food, it is digested by our body and put into the bloodstream. Then the signaling molecules, like insulin, are responsible for moving the nutrients out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
When the body begins to not respond to insulin, it has trouble putting the sugar into the cells. As a result, the sugar stays in the bloodstream much longer, raising your blood sugar levels, leading to diabetes.
Diabetes and other forms of hyperinsulinemia can make your body very sugar-saturated and full of oxidized fats. Lymphocytes, white blood cells, consume these oxidized fats to protect the body and become foam cells.
Foam cells will consume oxidized fats until they explode. When they explode, the body recruits more white blood cells to the site and lays a layer of calcium over those fats to prevent them from reaching the rest of the body.
Monitoring how much calcium has been deposited in your body can be judged through tests like blood pressure. Calcium deposits in cardiovascular tissue, such as heart valves and major arteries, are traditionally referred to as plaque.
This calcification causes arteries and heart valves to get very stiff, and it is one of the biggest categories for the cause of chronic high blood pressure and heart disease.
Suppose you have high or low blood pressure after eating. In that case, you should consider determining your CAC (coronary artery calcium) score to see if you are at risk of having a myocardial infarction (heart attack) or other related incidents in the coming years.
This is because CAC scores do an MRI and can see the amount of calcium buildup in your cardiovascular tissue, not just predict it using other clinical measures.
Time of Day Causing High Blood Pressure
One of the most common ways that you might see a sudden increase in blood pressure is through time of day. Your blood pressure tends to be higher in the mornings, largely due to your body’s use of cortisol to rouse you from your sleep. In general, mornings see more heart attacks than any other time of day as well.
You may find that your blood pressure has a sudden spike in a few scenarios.
If you are going through a stressful situation or when you first wake up your blood pressure can climb but worry not, this is what your body is meant to do.
These scenarios do increase your risk for a heart attack, but generally only people who have a high resting blood pressure are really at risk.
Another scenario where you might find your blood pressure spiking is after a meal. If this is the case you may have some form of atherosclerosis, and it would be wise to get a heart scan and check in with your doctor for the next steps you can take just in case.
Finally, your blood pressure is generally higher in the mornings, which isn’t usually a cause for alarm, but if you find you’re getting abnormally high blood pressure, it may be time for a visit to the doctor.
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