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It is well known that a short period of pain – called acute pain – can raise your blood pressure. Several studies show that people with long-term pain – called chronic pain – may develop long-term high blood pressure called hypertension. In more ways than one, pain can cause high blood pressure.
Learn more about what your blood pressure means with our Blood Pressure Chart.
How Acute Pain Causes High Blood Pressure
Sudden pain acts as a warning or alarm for your body. It tells you that something is wrong and your body goes into its fight or flight response. Your sympathetic nervous system goes into high drive and releases chemicals that cause your heart to beat faster and your arteries to constrict. You also have a release of the stress hormone cortisone. All of these reactions cause your blood pressure to go up suddenly.
However, acute pain does not cause hypertension. Once the pain goes away, your blood pressure goes back to normal. Even if acute pain lasts longer, say for days or weeks, your brain will adjust by releasing your body’s natural pain relievers called endogenous opioids. These natural opioids decrease your sensitivity to pain and that lowers your blood pressure.
Chronic Pain and High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)
The link between chronic pain and high blood pressure is not as obvious as in acute pain. Several studies suggest that having chronic pain increases your risk of developing long-term hypertension. The most probable cause is that chronic pain wears out your endogenous opioid receptors. Just like acute pain, chronic pain will trigger the endogenous opioid response, but over time, as the pain continues, you run out of opioids. This has the effect of increasing your sensitivity to pain. The long-lasting pain causes hypertension.
What is Chronic Pain?
Chronic pain is pain that lasts for months or years. Common causes of this type of pain are arthritis, back pain, cancer, and pain caused by nerve damage. This type of pain interferes with your daily activities of life. Over time, chronic pain may even lead to anxiety or depression.
Learn more about chronic pain with the latest report, Pain Management.
Signs of High Blood Pressure
For most people, there are no signs or symptoms of high blood pressure. That’s why they call it the silent killer. Untreated hypertension can lead to heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. If you have extremely high blood pressure, you may have a severe headache, shortness of breath, or a nosebleed, but this level of high blood pressure is unusual and only occurs if high blood pressure reaches a life-threatening level.
Because there are no signs of high blood pressure, the recommendation is that everyone should have their blood pressure checked at least once every two years after age 18. After age 40, you should have it checked at least once each year. The only way to diagnose hypertension is with blood pressure measurements.
What Causes Blood Pressure to Spike Suddenly?
Aside from pain, there are many obvious causes for high blood pressure like caffeine, exercise, or stress. Another common cause that is less obvious is medication. Medications that cause your blood pressure to go up include:
- Over-the-counter pain relievers called nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDS), including popular brands like aspirin, Advil, Aleve, and Motrin
- Decongestants that include pseudoephedrine (Sudafed)
- Some antidepressants
- Birth control pills for some women
- Any medication that contains caffeine
- Herbal supplements, including arnica, ma-huang, ginseng, guarana, and licorice
- Illegal drugs, including anabolic steroids, amphetamines, and cocaine