Pain, immediate or chronic can produce a traumatic effect on your body. It changes how things inside the body operate. If you have some form of pain, you may be wondering, can pain cause high blood pressure?
Pain can cause high blood pressure because it stimulates the sympathetic nervous system and the adrenal glands to release adrenaline. This increases the heart rate and constricts blood vessels which increases blood pressure.
This blog post will explain how the BP increases in more detail. In addition, I’ll explain how much blood pressure will increase and if chronic pain can effect it too.
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How Does Pain Affect Blood Pressure?
Pain affects blood pressure through two biological responses that occur when pain is experienced 1.
1. Activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System
When pain is experienced, the brain signals the nervous system to release a flood of hormones which increases the heart rate and constricts blood vessels. As a result, more blood is sent to the muscles. This reaction increases the body’s blood pressure 2.
2. The Adrenal Glands Release Adrenaline
Pain can cause the release of adrenaline which signals the blood vessels to constrict and re-directs the blood flow. The body’s ability to feel pain decreases when adrenaline is released. This is why a person may be able to run pain free, even though they may have a leg injury 3.
Then as soon as their adrenaline calms down, they feel pain and realize there’s an injury. This whole reaction causes a temporary spike to their blood pressure levels.
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Can Chronic Pain Cause High Blood Pressure?
Chronic pain can cause high blood pressure for the following 4 reasons:
- Activation of the Sympathetic Nervous System which constricts blood vessels.
- The Adrenal Glands release adrenaline which speeds up the heart.
- Stress from the pain releases the hormone cortisol.
- Taking certain pain relievers can raise blood pressure.
The Sympathetic Nervous System and Adrenaline
Chronic pain has been shown capably of producing a continuous sympathetic nervous system response 4. Chronic pain can also cause a sharp, shooting pain which can stimulate the adrenal glands. This activity results in an elevation of blood pressure 5.
Stress and Cortisol
There is no greater stress than pain. Chronic pain can cause long-term stress. While cortisol can rise during a flare up of chronic pain, it can also remain higher during periods of constant pain.
There are many complications of elevated cortisol levels in chronic pain including high blood pressure 6.
Certain Pain Relievers Can Raise Blood Pressure
People with chronic pain take many pain relievers like Advil. Advil falls into the category of non steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) 7. Some prescription and over-the-counter medications can raise blood pressure 8.
The following medications are NSAIDs:
- Advil (Ibuprofen)
- High-dose Aspirin
- Mefenamic Acid
They raise blood pressure because they can cause your body to retain water, sodium and cause kidney problems. NSAIDS can reduce the effect of many blood pressure drugs complicating the problem even more 9.
How Much Will Pain Increase Blood Pressure?
Pain will increase mean blood pressure by 20 mmHg. A study measured blood pressure before, during and after immersing a participants hand in cold water measured at 32 degrees Fahrenheit. The blood pressure increased 20 mmHg while feeling pain in the hand.
The study was split up into three sessions:
- The first three minutes prior to dipping their hands in the cold water.
- Three minutes with the hand submersed in 32 degree Fahrenheit water.
- Three minutes after the hand was removed from the water.
The mean blood pressure increased 20 mmHg while the participant felt the pain from the cold. After removing the hand, their blood pressure immediately dropped and almost returned back to their previous pressure in only three minutes 10.
The Cold Pressor Test
The cold pressor test 11, like the one above, is very effective when evaluating how pain and stress affect the human body. What is the cold pressor test?
The cold pressor test is used clinically to evaluate cardiovascular functions during pain and stress. A participants hand is immersed into cold water for a period of time. Changes in blood pressure and heart rate are recorded prior to, during and after the immersion.
In another cold pressor study, students performed the test and used water measured and maintained at 39.2 degrees Fahrenheit (4 degrees celsius). While the participants hands were immersed in the cold water, blood pressure increased from approximately 120/77 to 138/86 mmHg 12.
Studies have shown people who have a lower tolerance to pain show a greater increase in blood pressure than people with a higher tolerance. Even though, blood pressure increased in both groups 13.
Can pain cause high diastolic blood pressure? Pain can cause high diastolic blood pressure. Cold Pressor tests have been shown to raise diastolic blood pressure by 10 mmHg. After the pain was relieved, diastolic pressure returned back to the prior measurement.
Can nerve pain cause high blood pressure? Nerve pain can cause high blood pressure. Nerve pain can stimulate the sympathetic nervous system which increases the heart rate and constricts blood vessels. The reaction to the pain will increase blood pressure.
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- Wiley Online Library: Pain and Blood Pressure[↩]
- Practical Pain Management: Treat the Pain…Save a Heart[↩]
- Hormone Health Network: What is Adrenaline[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Prevalence of clinical hypertension in patients with chronic pain compared to non pain general medical patients[↩]
- Spine Institute of North America: How Back Pain Can Impact Your Blood Pressure[↩]
- Practical Pain Management: Cortisol Screening in Chronic Pain Patients[↩]
- NHS: NSAIDs[↩]
- American Heart Association: Understanding Over-the-Counter (OTC) Medications and High Blood Pressure[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of pain and non steroidal analgesics on blood pressure[↩]
- AHA Journals: Muscle Sympathetic Nerve Activity During Cold Pressor Test in Patients With Cerebrovascular Accidents[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The cold pressor test: pharmacological and therapeutic aspects[↩]
- American Physiology Society: Cold stress and the cold pressor test[↩]
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The relationship between resting blood pressure and acute pain sensitivity in healthy normotensive and chronic back pain sufferers: the effects of opioid blockade[↩]