People with blunted blood pressure response may have an increased risk of heart attack and heart disease. Often triggered by anxiety or situations of stress, blunted blood pressure response is both a medical and emotional condition. In some cases, blunted blood pressure response can be fatal.
What is Blunted Blood Pressure Response?
When a person is under stress, the heartbeat increases and usually, so does the blood pressure. High blood pressure can cause a range of health problems, but in situations of stress, elevated blood pressure is normal in conjunction with an elevated heartbeat.
In people with blunted blood pressure response, the heartbeat speeds up, but the blood pressure lowers. A person with blunted blood pressure response may feel completely calm in a stressful situation. Underneath it all, the heart labors to pump blood, and the brain is in a state of high anxiety as it struggles to keep the body calm and emotions under control.
Blunted blood pressure response is not the same as low blood pressure (hypotension) but can occur in people who have low blood pressure. In a long-term study of men recovering from heart surgery, researchers at the University of Buffalo found that those who showed blunted blood pressure response during exercise tests were more likely to die prematurely, and were more likely to die of a heart condition, than those who showed normal, elevated blood pressure levels associated with moderate exercise.
Causes and Symptoms of Blunted Blood Pressure Response
Blunted blood pressure response may be associated with post-traumatic stress disorder, complex post-traumatic stress disorder, or other conditions of anxiety. It may result from an underlying medical condition such as heart arrhythmia, or it may be a learned stress coping mechanism.
Symptoms of blunted blood pressure response may include:
- low blood pressure under stress
- feeling of calm, but acute awareness
- irregular or elevated heartbeat
- shallow breathing or holding the breath
- lack of emotion
- in some cases, fainting or loss of consciousness
Blunted blood pressure response may develop in people who attempt to suppress emotion, or who learned stress coping skills in an environment which required suppression of feelings such as anger, fear or even happiness. Unable to release emotion in a healthy way, a person may deny or suppress strong feelings.
Under stress, the brain responds with a shot of adrenalin. Besides speeding up the body’s functional responses, such as heartbeat, adrenalin raises the emotional level of the stressful experience and commits it to memory. Future recollection of the event(s) may trigger a strong emotional reaction. This may cause a person to automatically suppress the painful experience, resulting in physical stress damage to the body, high levels of anxiety, pent-up nervous energy, and further strain to the heart.
Medically, not enough is known about blunted blood pressure response. Awareness and understanding of blunted blood pressure response is important to the treatment of both heart disorders and conditions of stress such as depression and anxiety.
Treating Blunted Blood Pressure Response
Blunted blood pressure response can be difficult to treat. Besides general lack of awareness, factors influencing the treatment of blunted blood pressure response are varied and may be contingent on the individual patient. Blunted blood pressure response needs to be addressed as a combined medical and emotional condition.
In some cases, adrenaline inhibitors can help a person deal with stress as it occurs. Adrenaline inhibitors may help decrease the high anxiety response mechanisms of the brain, and lower the emotional impact of stressful events.
In people with post traumatic stress disorder or complex post traumatic stress disorder, adrenaline inhibitors may help reduce the emotional severity of remembering past trauma, and may aid in treating flashbacks. However, once treatment stops, the person may again suffer overwhelming emotional responses.
Because adrenaline inhibitors interfere with the normal functioning of the brain, and may provide only temporary relief, a knowledgeable health professional may recommend therapy for past trauma, or treatment for negative stress coping habits.
To treat blunted blood pressure response, the patient may need to unlearn a lifetime of negative habits, and learn to deal with stress in a positive, healthy way. Since many negative habits may be subconscious, or may be complicated by emotional factors or lack of medical support, treatment can take time.
Medically, people with blunted blood pressure response are at risk for heart failure or heart disease. Extreme low blood pressure may cause oxygen starvation in the brain and other vital organs. See a qualified health professional for a thorough checkup and tests for arrhythmia (erratic heartbeat) or any other conditions of the circulatory system and the heart.