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Can Chronic Pain Cause High Blood Pressure?

high blood pressure

One of the major difficulties with managing chronic pain is managing all of the other symptoms and conditions that come with it. This is a tough task for anyone considering how our medical system is divided into "specialists." You become forced to go to different doctors for different symptoms which is time and labor intensive, especially for the chronic pain sufferer.

This is the epitome of conventional medicine and why you're likely receiving poor care. The varying symptoms and concomitant conditions associated with chronic pain are should not be seen, and therefore treated, separately. They are all related and need to be addressed together as a part of your holistic chronic pain treatment plan.

So can chronic pain cause hypertension?

For many people, they did not develop high blood pressure until after their chronic pain began. There are a few reasons for this, and as you will see, trying to treat hypertension by itself, as a stand alone condition is ineffective and detrimental to the chronic pain sufferer.

There are three main factors at play...

Chronic Inflammation

Chronic pain does not exist without chronic inflammation. It is at the root of ALL chronic pain conditions, regardless of how you developed your unique chronic pain condition. Chronic inflammation is different than acute inflammation. Acute inflammation is your body's natural response to healing damaged tissues. It helps repair, and then it leaves. Chronic inflammation, on the other hand, serves no purpose. It develops slowly and doesn't accumulate in a noticeable way like acute inflammation does. Therefore, most don't even know they are suffering from it. It slowly wreaks havoc while it spreads throughout your body, causing new and changing symptoms to occur. This type of inflammation is manly due to dietary choices and environmental toxin exposure. Worse of all, there is no treatment in conventional medicine for chronic inflammation. Steroids and NSAIDs, which are the most commonly prescribed therapies only work for acute inflammation.

chronic inflammation

Chronic inflammation builds up in your blood vessels which causes them to harden, a process called atherosclerosis. The harder your arteries become, the less blood and oxygen can be transported. This forces your heart to beat harder and harder just to move the same amount of blood throughout your body. This, in turn, makes chronic pain worse. When your bodily tissues, especially nerves, experience decreased levels of oxygen, they cry out for help, in the form of pain.

Treating chronic inflammation is a must for every chronic pain sufferer, especially if you are experiencing high blood pressure. Which is why an advanced inflammatory panel is a standard lab test run for all my chronic pain patients.

Stress, fear, and anxiety

What do all of these things have in common, other than plaguing the chronic pain sufferer? They all stimulate a sympathetic nervous system response. Your autonomic nervous system is a part of your nervous system that is not under voluntary control. There are too many things your body needs to do throughout the day to keep you alive and if we had to consciously do all of them we would fail. So our brain and spinal cord take that burden off of us. The autonomic nervous system is divided into two branches: sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest). Most of us spend too much time in a sympathetic state due to the stresses of life. The stress, anxiety, and fear associated with chronic pain amplifies your sympathetic nervous system. During a sympathetic nervous system response your blood vessels constrict and your blood pressure raises to force more blood and oxygen to your muscles.

This is a great adaptation if you are running or fighting for your life, but not if you are stuck in traffic, getting scolded by your boss, or worked up by the limitations your chronic pain is posing. We do not need an increase in blood pressure in these situations. If stress, fear, and anxiety are not appropriately managed, this blood pressure will continue to become elevated until it becomes the norm for your body.

Repressed emotions

I teach extensively on the importance of uncovering and rectifying repressed emotions as a part of a holistic chronic pain treatment plan. This is where I tend to lose people because they don't understand the connection, don't think it applies to them, or believe conventional medicine's belief that the brain and body are not connected. I can assure you it is, and this applies to EVERY chronic pain sufferer.

We all have repressed emotions because we all have emotions. We are creatures of habit, especially poor ones. When we encounter an unpleasant emotion that we don't want to deal with we ignore it, try to forget it. But that's not how the brain works. It cares deeply about all emotions so instead of forgetting about them, it stores the ones that we don't want to deal with to your subconscious. We don't even realize that this has happened and that these emotions are causing physiological changes in our bodies.

Your brain really wants you to deal with these emotions, but when we don't listen and keep them stuffed down your brain tries to get your attention through other means, such as creating pain. It does so in a very interesting way. Your brain stimulates a sympathetic nervous system response. Which constricts your blood vessels to decrease the amount of blood and oxygen that can be delivered to your tissues. Remember that oxygen deprivation causes pain! But the constriction of your blood vessels also increases your blood pressure!


How is this treated?

So now what? Go to your doctor to get antihypertensive medications? They may lower your blood pressure a little but the factors that are causing your blood pressure to be high in the first place are still in play. We need to think more holistically since this is a holistic problem after all.

Decrease chronic inflammation. This needs to be done by adopting an anti-inflammatory diet and lifestyle and healing your gut. This is the only way so check out these resources on the subject:

Reduce stress and anxiety. Easier said than done right? Don't you love this recommendation from your doctor without any actionable ways you can do so? You can't change the world around you, only your body's response to the world. Some of the best ways to reduce stress and anxiety are to:

Adopt a low carbohydrate and sugar diet. Spikes in blood glucose contribute to increased levels of your stress hormone, cortisol. Instead seek a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids as described in the Meat Dilemma Blog above.

Meditate. This is scientifically the best way to reduce stress and anxiety. The research recommends 10 minutes twice a day. You can find lots of guided meditations on youtube and through apps on your phone. Any amount will be beneficial, you just need to be consistent about it to reap the benefits!

Reduce stimulants. Caffeine and alcohol specifically increase stress and raise blood pressure. A lot of chronic pain sufferers require alternative ways to increase their energy to get through the day. But in the long run, these alternatives can cause more harm than good. That's why I recommend checking out my blog on the connection between chronic pain and fatigue.

Hydrate. The human body is between 60-70% water. Which means that 60-70% of what goes into your body should be water! Most of that water is found in our blood stream. When you are dehydrated your heart is forced to work harder to pump blood throughout your body. Blood pressure raises to help facilitate this process. Dehydration also increases the concentration of sodium (salt) in your body which is falsely victimized as the cause of high blood pressure. Sugar raises blood pressure more than salt does.

And last, but certainly not least, mind-body counseling. Repressed emotions can be the cause of your chronic pain, but they are a contributing factor in almost every sufferer. Any for of talk therapy will help but working with someone who utilizes mind-body counseling, the type I implement into my chronic pain program. This form of counseling specifically is tailored to help you identify and treat your repressed emotions, connecting them to your chronic pain and your unique symptoms. It is one of the most powerful therapies to help you reduce your blood pressure and treat your chronic pain!

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