12 Reasons for Sudden Blood Pressure Spike

Lifestyle choices could be the agent to sudden spike in blood pressure. Find out what causes labile hypertension in this article.

by Calvyn Ee

Hypertension in Brief


According to the 2019 National Health and Morbidity Survey, 3 in 10 Malaysians – or 6.4 million people – have hypertension. Hypertension is also known as high blood pressure, where blood in the body is pumped at a higher-than-normal pressure over a prolonged period. The normal blood pressure rate is read as “120/80 mm Hg”: systolic blood pressure of 120 mm Hg; and diastolic blood pressure of 80 mm Hg.

Systolic blood pressure is the amount of pressure in your arteries as your heart contracts to pump blood to all parts of your body. Meanwhile, diastolic blood pressure refers to the blood pressure in our arteries when our heart is between beats. A blood pressure above 140/90 mm Hg is considered high.

The risk of hypertension increases with age and is three times more likely to occur in men than women. Nevertheless, adults are still at risk of getting hypertension if they don’t take good care of their overall well-being.

In most cases, those who have hypertension have no symptoms, even when their blood pressure is dangerously high. Some persons might experience headaches, shortness of breath, or even nosebleeds, but these aren’t specific to hypertension. Therefore, it becomes important to keep an eye on your blood pressure as you age; there are ways you can keep track of your blood pressure at home.

Complications from Untreated Hypertension


If left untreated, hypertension can cause lasting damage to your body. The increased pressure on our artery walls caused by hypertension can cause irreparable damage to our blood vessels and organs. Complications that arise can include:

  • Heart disease/failure
  • Kidney failure
  • Difficulties with pregnancy
  • Stroke
  • Changes to your metabolism
  • Aneurysm
  • Cognitive difficulties

Keeping tabs on your blood pressure ensures that you’re aware of how much it changes and how often. Your doctors will tell you what you need to look out for, including blood pressure readings that frequently or consistently go above 140/90 mm Hg; at times, you might notice that your blood pressure spikes at random intervals, even if you haven’t had anything to eat or aren’t doing anything in particular. This is known as labile (“easily changed”) hypertension.

Labile hypertension occurs when your blood pressure changes from normal to very high levels without any warning. It generally occurs when you or your loved one are in a stressful situation. It might seem strange at first, but it could be a signal that there may be underlying causes to it. The challenge is that there’s no minimum number for your blood pressure to reach, nor a minimum number of spikes that occur, to indicate labile hypertension; it comes and goes on its own.

The difficulty is in getting an accurate diagnosis of what’s really happening. Is it just a fluke? Is it really a sign of hypertension? An incorrect diagnosis can mean a huge difference in how you live your life.

Causes of Sudden Blood Pressure Spikes

Blood pressure spikes can happen to us without warning. Sometimes, it’s because of how we feel or due to something we ate. It’s important to know what can cause blood pressure spikes because we can identify what triggers are causing them and, thus, be able to control them (if it’s something we can control) or look out for and notify medical professionals.

Here’s everything you need to know about these triggers.

1. Caffeine

Studies have found that caffeine can briefly increase your blood pressure. The exact reason is unknown, but medical scientists speculate that it could be blocking hormones responsible for keeping your arteries wide, allowing for smooth blood flow. Other suggestions say it causes an adrenaline release.

Caffeine’s effects on the body are usually temporary, lasting several hours sometimes. It may also have a higher impact on people who don’t consume caffeine regularly. Managing your caffeine consumption can help alleviate this, but if it spikes often (or at irregular intervals), it wouldn’t hurt to get it checked.

2. Stress and Anxiety


Emotional stress and anxiety are known to cause a spike in your blood pressure. In stressful situations, your body may produce stress hormones, such as adrenaline and cortisol; your heart beats faster and your vessels will also constrict, causing elevated blood pressure.

Sometimes, going to see the doctor can cause varying degrees of stress or anxiety. Your blood pressure is usually normal at home, but because going to the doctor’s office can make you feel uncomfortable (because you don’t know what the doctor will tell you), it leads to a sudden spike in your blood pressure. This is commonly referred to as white-coat syndrome.

Chronic stress and untreated anxiety can cause lasting harm to your body, so it’s important to look after your mental and emotional health, too. Mindfulness strategies, therapy, and meditation may be beneficial to keeping your mental and emotional well-being in check; studies have found these techniques to be of great help to easing stress and anxiety.

3. Smoking


Smoking poses many health risks to you and your loved ones. In the case of blood pressure, smoking can cause a spike as it activates your sympathetic nervous system (SNS). This causes a hormonal response which leads to your pulse and blood pressure to rise. If this happens often, it could cause long-term damage to your artery walls, putting you at higher risk of various health complications. Even being exposed to secondhand smoke can cause blood pressure spikes.

Most notably, excessive smoking can increase your risk of atherosclerosis, or the buildup of plaque in blood vessels. This can cause a restriction of blood flow, which can cause a blood clot.

The connection between smoking and blood pressure spikes, as well as hypertension, still requires further studies to ascertain its effects on the body. It’s still recommended that you quit smoking for the good of your health.

4. Thyroid Complications


The thyroid gland is located at the base of the throat and produces the thyroid hormone. Its primary purpose is to regulate the proper functioning of your heart, including your blood pressure. An imbalance of this hormone can lead to various complications.

Too little of the hormone can cause hypothyroidism. This can result in a weakened heart and stiffer arteries, making it less efficient to deliver blood to every part of the body. On the other hand, too much of it can cause hyperthyroidism: your heart ends up working a lot harder, and your blood pressure may also rise to elevated levels.

Thyroid complications can be regulated through medical intervention and healthy lifestyle habits, such as frequent exercise, quitting smoking, and so forth.

5. Medications and Supplements

Some types of over-the-counter/prescription medications and supplements may interact with your body or with one another, which can cause blood pressure spikes. These may include:

  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs)
  • Oral steroids
  • Allergy medications
  • Certain antidepressants
  • Birth control pills
  • Certain herbal supplements

Normally, your blood pressure will return to normal levels once the medication leaves the body. If the spikes still occur, or if your levels remain elevated, see a doctor immediately. Make sure to also get their advice on certain medications that may be prescribed for you if you may have other illnesses/health complications. This will help prevent unexpected blood pressure spikes from occurring.

If you plan on taking supplements for certain conditions, be sure to also get your doctor’s advice beforehand, so as to prevent any side effects (like blood pressure spikes) from afflicting you.

6. Drug Use/Abuse


The overuse of illegal drugs can also cause significant harm to your health, elevated blood pressure notwithstanding. This may be due to a bodily response to a chemical substance that enters your body/bloodstream. It’s also possible for your blood pressure to rise even after you stop taking the drug.

Prior studies have noted various adverse health changes in persons who only use drugs “recreationally,” even after the effects of the drug have worn off. Complications include stiffer arteries and thickening of the heart’s walls.

7. Health Conditions/Complications

Having preexisting, or newly diagnosed, health conditions can also be a trigger of elevated blood pressure. In most scenarios, a compromised health outlook adversely affects the functions of your organs, with one such effect being a rise (or fall) in your blood pressure). Cardiovascular disease, for example, weakens your heart and blood vessels, which causes higher blood pressure to deliver blood to your entire body.

8. Dietary Habits


A lack of certain nutrients, or an excess of unhealthy foods, can all cause blood pressure spikes. Proper dietary habits can easily prevent these spikes from happening often (or at all) and also ensure you have a well-balanced and nutritious diet to keep you in good health.

Take note of these recommendations to lower your blood pressure:

  • Lower your sugar intake: Even a small cup of Coca-Cola can cause a notable increase in your blood pressure. These may also increase your sodium intake and cause weight troubles if you keep consuming high amounts of sugar.
  • Reduce tyramine consumption: This is a kind of amino acid produced by the body and found in some foods, such as cheese, processed meat, and fermented foods. A high tyramine intake can cause a rise in blood pressure.
  • Reduce oils and fatty foods: Lower your trans and saturated fat intake, as these can have harmful effects on the body. These can increase unhealthy (low density lipoprotein, or LDL) cholesterol levels and can cause atherosclerosis, among other complications.
  • Reduce sodium intake: The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends a daily intake of less than 2,300mg of sodium per day. A high sodium intake, especially from processed and restaurant foods, can lead to a greater risk of high blood pressure. Consider adopting a low-sodium diet, such as the DASH diet.
  • Increase potassium levels: Make sure to consume more fruits and vegetables, low-fat dairy, and even fish to increase your potassium intake. The AHA recommends 4,700 milligrams (mg) of potassium per day. A good balance of potassium and sodium will keep your blood pressure levels normal.
  • Enjoy healthier alternatives: There are many ways you can replace unhealthy food options with healthier ones. Consult a dietitian if you need a starting point. You can also find a lot of healthy recipes online that you can try for yourself.

9. Physical Activity (Or the Lack of It)

It’s only natural for your blood pressure to go up when you’re exercising. Once you take a break, your blood pressure will gradually return to normal levels. Regular exercise is always recommended to keep your blood pressure in check, even if you may be hypertensive. If need be, you can monitor your blood pressure before, during, and after any planned routines. High spikes may need to be monitored as a precaution, especially if it quickly exceeds 180/120 mm Hg.

Not exercising puts you at greater risk of various health complications. You may have a 30 to 50 percent higher risk of developing high blood pressure (and subsequently, hypertension) if you don’t exercise. Given how a lot of office work is sedentary in nature, coupled with a “lack of time” to engage in physical activity, the lack of exercise puts a great many people at risk of developing lasting health conditions that may be harder to treat as we age.

10. Alcohol

Three alcoholic drinks are already enough to temporarily raise your blood pressure. Meanwhile, binge drinking (three to four, or more, drinks “within two hours”) can cause lasting increases to your blood pressure. Drinking in moderation is fine, although it’s still recommended that you cut drinking alcohol out of your lifestyle.

While it’s believed that some types of alcohol, particularly wine, provide some health benefits if taken in small doses, this may be due to other lifestyle factors and not the wine itself.

11. Pain


When you hurt yourself, your blood pressure can rise in that moment. The pain you experience causes your body to release hormones that increase your blood pressure. Once the initial shock subsides, your blood pressure should return to normal. Sometimes, acute pain can last a while and your blood pressure will remain elevated until the pain begins to subside.

12. Dehydration

Our body is made up of at least 60 percent water. It’s an important component of our bodily functions, from removing waste to regulating our body temperature. When you’re dehydrated, your body releases a chemical called vasopressin. It will tell the kidney to retain water so you don’t lose more of it. At the same time, it also causes your blood vessels to constrict, which thus leads to elevated blood pressure levels.

What to Do When Blood Pressure Spike Happens

If you’re in the pink of health, you might not even know that your blood pressure may have spiked to abnormal levels. Because symptoms generally don’t present themselves, the only way you’ll know is if you take regular readings from time to time. If you do experience any symptoms, such as headaches, irregular heartbeats, or shortness of breath (to name a few), speak to a doctor immediately.

If you or your loved one are monitoring blood pressure due to health complications or for other reasons, make sure you properly confirm the readings when a spike occurs. Sometimes, it could be anxiety from taking readings that might have caused the spike to happen. Other times, it could be because you were moving around before you took the reading. Ensure that you’re relaxed and comfortable, with the monitor set up properly, before you start taking any readings.

Take note of any potential triggers that might have caused the spike. Were you exercising just before it happened? Did it go way above normal readings in a very short span of time? Or were you having your weekly glass of wine? If you’re not sure what the trigger might be, speak to your doctor and give them a summary of what you’ve done prior to the spike.

If you’ve confirmed that you’ve indeed had a blood pressure spike, consult your doctor for what you can do next. They may need to perform a few tests to confirm if it might be high blood pressure or something else. Have someone you trust to keep you company if you’re feeling anxious.

For the most part, lifestyle, and dietary modifications are the best option for managing your blood pressure at home and keeping it at optimal levels. Be sure to exercise regularly (but make sure not to overdo it), have a balanced diet, and avoid potential triggers that can cause an unexpected spike. If you’ve never taken a blood pressure reading before, be sure to learn how to do so and take regular readings.

Worry about your high blood pressure? Here are some practical ways you can take to lower your blood pressure through diet and exercise!

Caring for Someone with Hypertension

Need help to care for someone with hypertension? Our highly trained and qualified Care Professionals are able to help you and your loved ones with your healthcare needs. Our Care Pros can accompany you to consultations, remind you to take the prescribed medications and monitor your blood pressure levels to ensure everything is going well. We’ll be able to support you and your loved one through the highs and lows of your condition.

Download our app now to find out more and start booking quality care for your loved one!



About the Writer
Calvyn Ee
Calvyn is an aspiring author, poet and storyteller. He spends his time reading, gaming and building stories with his action figure photography.
Make Home Care Personal To Your Loved One

Make Home Care Personal To Your Loved One

Get started with a free consultation today, and learn why thousands of Malaysians trust Homage to deliver the best care in their homes.

Get Care Now