Blood pressure is a measure of the force that your blood exerts on your arteries as it flows through. A variety of things can cause a sudden rise in your blood pressure — and when blood pressure is repeatedly increased, you also increase your risk of developing chronic hypertension, which can lead to hardening of the arteries, heart disease and stroke.
If you experience intense, sudden episodes of stress or anxiety, you may experience a sudden rise in your blood pressure. According to a report by the American Iatrogenic Association, as many as 25 percent of people have elevated readings in the specific context of having their blood pressure checked at a doctor’s office or emergency room. This is a result of the fear and anxiety associated with the situation, and it is referred to as “white coat hypertension.” The National Institutes of Health notes that stress raises blood pressure by causing a release of hormones that cause constriction of the blood vessels. Physical pain, too, is a stressor that can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure.
Several medications can cause an increase in blood pressure. Some of these, such as birth control pills, are taken on a regular basis and can lead to chronically high hypertension. However, certain over-the-counter medications that are used only occasionally can cause a sudden increase in blood pressure. For example, nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs, such as aspirin and ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), can raise your blood pressure. The Merck Manual Online Medical Library also lists other drugs, such as cocaine, which can raise blood pressure suddenly. If you’re in doubt, as your doctor whether any drugs you’re taking might affect your blood pressure.
Consuming salty foods or drinks can cause a sudden increase in blood pressurebecause sodium causes the body to retain more fluid. This rise in blood pressure typically lasts a short time. Research reported in “Science Daily” in November 2000 noted that a heavy meal releases hormones into the bloodstream that can raise blood pressure and heart rate.
When you smoke you inhale nicotine, which has an immediate effect on your blood pressure. Nicotine causes changes in the proper functioning of blood vessels and produces inflammation within the circulatory system, which contributes to hardening of the arteries and high blood pressure. These changes begin to occur after smoking just one cigarette, according to a 2007 report in the “American Journal of Hypertension.”
Dr. Fariba Hendesi is a cardiologist and blood pressure specialist