Our blood vessels have the ability to constrict or dilate, depending on a number of factors that impact our bodies. For the most part, dilation occurs when our bodies detect a need for increased blood supply. Constriction on the other hand, occurs when our bodies try to prevent excessive blood loss or heat loss.
In some cases, either one of these functions can be altered and thus cause mild to severe complications. In this article, we’re going to discuss pathological vasoconstriction, it’s most common causes, and what you can do to relieve it.
What is Pathological Vasoconstriction?
It’s important to draw the line between normal blood vessel tightening and pathological constriction because vasoconstriction is generally a normal bodily response to certain external factors and internal needs. So just because you’re experiencing vasoconstriction, it doesn’t necessarily always entail treatment.
For the most part, normal vasoconstriction will end when the causative factor is removed. A good example would be vasoconstriction caused by cold temperatures. When we expose our bodies to cold environments, our blood vessels are signaled to constrict. This is performed in order to help preserve heat which is lost through our skin when blood flow is strong. That’s why we tend to become pale when in colder places. Once you exit the cold and move into a warmer area, vasoconstriction will be resolved almost instantly.
Pathological vasoconstriction, on the other hand, may be caused by an underlying health condition and isn’t so easily resolved. The most common cause of pathological vasoconstriction is hypertension – a condition characterized by consistently, abnormally high generalized blood pressure.
When vascular resistance is constantly high, it may become challenging for nutrient-rich blood and oxygen to reach certain tissues of your body. For that reason, pathological vasoconstriction can give rise to a variety of complications in the future if untreated.
What are the Symptoms of Vasoconstriction?
The tell-tale signs of vasoconstriction can help individuals better respond to their situation. By keeping an eye out for a combination of these symptoms, you can possibly address vasoconstriction and prevent it from worsening with time.
- Increased blood pressure
- Dilated pupils
- Numbness or tingling sensations
- Generalized weakness
Before you respond to an episode of vasoconstriction, ask yourself whether you’ve engaged in any activities or exposed yourself to any substances or environments that could cause the change in blood vessel configuration. Keep in mind that vasoconstriction can be normal under some circumstances, and thus might not always need to be addressed.
If you’ve been having these symptoms for several days or weeks, then you can consider pathological vasoconstriction and thus seek sound medical consultation and treatment.
The Dangers of Pathological Vasoconstriction
So your blood vessels are a little tighter – so what? Aside from the obvious fact that vasoconstriction obstructs blood from making its way to the necessary parts of your system, vasoconstriction can also be a predisposing factor for a variety of conditions.
This becomes obvious when we consider the fact that our blood vessels are not completely waste-free. Material known as atherosclerotic plaque accumulates in our blood vessels as the result of numerous factors, such as our diet or our vices. This plaque stays lodged in the vessels, coating the interior lining and making blood vessels even thinner.
When our hearts beat to push blood through these vessels, the increased pressure and resistance can dislodge plaque and cause it to travel through the bloodstream. This is what we know as an embolus. For a while, the embolus might freely flow through our bloodstreams as it’s carried by blood. The imminent danger however, lies in the fact that our blood vessels become narrower and narrower as they move away from the heart.
As the embolus travels through our bloodstream, it may be led to areas where vessels become too narrow to accommodate its size. Thus the embolus is lodged, blocking the passage of blood to certain tissues in the body. This can lead to an infarction – a condition characterized by the death of tissues secondary to blocked blood supply.
When this occurs in the brain, this is what we come to know as stroke. If the blood vessels supplying the heart become obstructed, it results in a myocardial infarction. Because both of these conditions are life threatening and life altering, it’s important to make sure you resolve vasoconstriction in the first place to prevent these issues from occurring.
Another potential threat that may occur in the presence of pathologic vasoconstriction is what medical professionals call reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome. This is a group of conditions characterized by sudden, severe obstruction of blood flow to parts of the brain as a result of pronounced vasoconstriction. The most noteworthy symptom these conditions can cause is what doctors call a ‘thunderclap’ headache, or a sudden, intense pain emanating from the head.
While RCVS conditions can be reversed and rarely cause lifelong complications, they are indicative of a predisposition for stroke. Taking these instances as a warning sign can help you better prepare yourself to avoid any further complications in the future.
How to Relieve Vasoconstriction
Vasoconstriction can be relieved in two ways – naturally or with medication. The former is often the most ideal method of treatment, especially because it can be performed easily and commonly provides immediate relief.
The easiest, simplest, and fastest way to dilate your blood vessels is by way of exercise. Cardio exercises, or those that call for intensive breathing such as running, swimming, or biking, are known to be most effective. Engaging daily in at least 30 minutes of cardio workouts can help normalize blood vessel configuration and prevent pathological vasoconstriction in the long run.
Dietary changes can also help relieve vasoconstriction. Avoiding food that contains caffeine can greatly help reduce the symptoms associated with high vascular resistance. For those who smoke, minimizing the number of cigarettes used in a day or trying to quit all together can substantially improve the state of blood vessels.
What many people don’t know is that your own mindset could actually be having a negative effect on your blood vessels. Studies have shown that too much stress can cause vasoconstriction, which is why you might feel a headache every now and then when you’re under too much pressure. Practicing stress management techniques can help reduce the instances of stress-induced vasoconstriction.
Another simple yet effective way of relieving vasoconstriction is massage. Specifically, Swedish massage which requires the rolling and kneading of the skin and muscles in order to relieve pain and relax tension. The reason behind the efficacy of massage for vasoconstriction lies in the fact that physical stimulation of the skin and its underlying surfaces has been known to improve blood circulation. This works best for superficial vasoconstriction, such as in the extremities.
Medications for vasoconstriction vary widely. Prescribing these depends on each individual person’s case, so what works for one person might not work for another. Be sure to consult your doctor for further information on vasodilator medications to find the safest and most effective pharmacotherapy plan for your specific needs.
Vasoconstriction might not seem like such a big problem on the surface, but this common problem can cause a variety of complications down the line. Understanding how it affects your system and what risks it poses will make room for urgent resolution.
For acute cases of vasoconstriction, there are a number of remedies you can perform at home without the need for a doctor’s recommendation. Simple things like exercise and proper diet can bring around a world’s worth of positive change.
However if you’ve been experiencing vasoconstriction for over six months and you suspect that it might be caused by an underlying medical condition, it would be best to seek the advice and consultation of your physician.