Why Does My Blood Pressure Fluctuate?

Medically reviewed by Carissa Stephens, RN, CCRN, CPN on October 17, 2017Written by Kimberly Holland

Overview

Most trips to the doctor’s office will include a blood pressure reading. That’s because your blood pressure can tell your doctor a lot about your health. A number that’s a little low or a little high may be a sign of potential issues. Changes in your blood pressure between visits can be an indication of health issues, too.

Your blood pressure is a reading of the force with which blood is passing through your circulatory system. Blood pressure changes naturally many times a day. Most changes are normal and predictable. When these spikes and valleys in your blood pressure occur, you may not experience unusual signs or symptoms. These fluctuations may be brief and fleeting. Learn more about blood pressure readings.

However, if you notice that the high pressure readings are really high or the low pressure readings are unusually low, you may want to speak with your doctor. When you notice these changes, it’s important you record them in a log. Write down your numbers, your activities, and how long it took for the number to reach normal again. This information may help you or your doctor detect a pattern or a problem.

Causes

Fluctuating blood pressure can be caused by several issues.

Stress

Emotional stress and anxiety can temporarily increase blood pressure. Over time, excess stress can take a toll on your cardiovascular system and might lead to permanent blood pressure problems. Find out more about the effects of stress on your body.

White-coat syndrome

White-coat syndrome occurs when worry or stress from a doctor’s appointment causes a temporary spike in blood pressure. At home, you may find your reading is normal. This high blood pressure reading doesn’t mean you have hypertension (high blood pressure). However, people with white-coat hypertension are more likely to develop high blood pressure.

Medication

Both over-the-counter and prescription medications can impact your blood pressure. Some medications, like diuretics and blood pressure pills, are designed to lower your blood pressure numbers. Others, like cold and allergy medications, can increase your blood pressure.

Activity

Exercise, talking, laughter, and even sex can cause blood pressure fluctuations.

Food and drink

What you eat or drink might impact your blood pressure reading. Foods high in tyramine, a substance found in aged foods, can increase blood pressure. This includes foods that are:

  • fermented
  • pickled
  • brined
  • cured

Drinks with caffeine can boost blood pressure numbers temporarily, too.

Adrenal issues

Your adrenal system is responsible for hormone production. Adrenal fatigue occurs when your hormone production is low. Your blood pressure may fall as a result. An overactive adrenal system can cause sudden spikes in blood pressure and hypertension.

Pheochromocytoma

This rare tumor develops in the adrenal glands and impacts hormone production. It can cause sudden bursts of irregular blood pressure readings with normal spans in between.

Risk factors

These factors may put you at greater risk for experiencing fluctuating blood pressure:

  • high levels of stress
  • anxiety
  • taking blood pressure pills that aren’t effective or don’t last until your next dose
  • tobacco use
  • excessive alcohol consumption
  • night-shift work

Certain conditions can also increase your risk for developing an abnormal blood pressure. These include:

Treatment

Fluctuating blood pressure numbers don’t necessarily need treatment unless they’re caused by an underlying condition or disease. That’s why treatment for fluctuating blood pressure consists of three main components. These are:

  1. Regularly monitoring your blood pressure. Unusual highs and lows may predict future problems, so monitor your numbers regularly to catch problems early.
  2. Making healthy lifestyle changes. Healthy lifestyle practices can help you avoid blood pressure problems or fluctuations.
  3. Taking medications as prescribed. Your doctor may prescribe medication to help regulate your blood pressure if lifestyle changes aren’t adequate.

Home management

You can help your body manage blood pressure by adopting lifestyle changes that help you get and stay healthy.

Lose and maintain healthy weight

Men with a waist over 40 inches and women with a waist over 35 inches are more likely to experience blood pressure problems.

Exercise regularly

Aim for 30 minutes of moderate exercise, five days a week. If you’re new to exercise, talk to your doctor before starting any new exercise routines, and take it slowly. Starting out at a high intensity level could be dangerous, especially in people with uncontrolled blood pressure.

Healthy eating habits

Practice the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) Diet to reduce your risk of high blood pressure. This diet emphasizes whole grains, vegetables, fruits, and low-fat dairy. Here are 13 foods that may help lower blood pressure.

Eat less sodium

Measure your daily sodium intake so you get an idea of how much you’re eating. Then, focus on staying within the American Heart Association’s daily recommendation of 2,300 milligrams. If you’ve been diagnosed with hypertension or high blood pressure, aim for 1,500 milligrams.

Avoid stress

Find healthy ways to cope with daily stress. This may include exercise, yoga, breathing techniques, or talk therapy. Check out this year’s best stress relief blogs to get you started.

Limit alcohol and caffeine intake

Caffeine may boost your blood pressure, while alcohol lowers it. These substances can also increase your risk for diseases that increase your risk for high blood pressure, such as heart disease and kidney disease.

Stop using tobacco

Kick the habit for good to keep your blood pressure in a healthy range. Talk to your doctor about smoking cessation programs. Joining a support group or quitting with a friend can help you stick to your plan.

Complications

Fluctuating blood pressure numbers aren’t always an indication of a bigger health problem, but for some people it can be a warning sign of future issues. These include:

Hypertension

Hypertension doesn’t develop rapidly. It’s often a gradual shift upward, and unusual readings may be the first sign of a problem. Monitor your blood pressure to watch for signs of chronic hypertension.

Heart disease

In one study, people with blood pressure variations between doctor visits were more likely to develop heart failure and stroke than people who had normal blood pressure numbers.

Dementia

A study from Japan found that people with blood pressure fluctuations were two times more likely to develop this mental decline than people with no fluctuation.

Outlook

Fluctuations in blood pressure are often normal and predictable. Everyday activities like exercise, walking, and talking can impact your blood pressure numbers. However, these changes can also be a sign of possible problems, so it’s important to monitor them closely and work with your doctor to avoid possible problems in the future.

If you’re experiencing blood pressure fluctuations that seem unusual, keep a log of your readings, and then make an appointment to see your doctor. It’s better to get ahead of a potential problem than to react to a bigger one later.

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