If you’ve noticed yourself feeling more sluggish and fatigued lately, you may be wondering if your blood pressure is to blame. But does high blood pressure make you tired?
The short answer is yes.
However, high blood pressure doesn’t necessarily cause fatigue, which can stem from numerous other sources. Lifestyle factors like inadequate sleep, chronic stress, poor nutrition, or lack of exercise can be to blame. Other times, it’s underlying medical conditions that are sapping your energy.
If you’re experiencing ongoing fatigue, it’s worth having a conversation with your doctor to get to the root cause. If you suspect high blood pressure is making you tired, I recommend having that conversation with some urgency.
High Blood Pressure: Off the Radar
In medicine, we diagnose most issues based on symptoms. A patient comes in complaining of knee pain, and we respond with specific diagnostics in response to that symptom.
The trouble with high blood pressure is that, in its early stages, it rarely causes physical symptoms. Most patients don’t “feel” any different than normal when their readings start to creep up. Consequently, we usually discover a patient has high blood pressure through regular in-office monitoring, not because someone comes in with a symptom.
Many health conditions produce signs and indicators that offer a hint of what’s coming. But high blood pressure only causes symptoms once it reaches concerning levels. As such, fatigue and other common symptoms are usually late-stage indicators that your blood pressure is too high. In other words, you didn’t even know the problem was brewing until you were amid the damage.
It’s something like the difference between a hurricane and an earthquake. With hurricanes, the wind picks up, the rain pours, and the storm builds. You have days to prepare while you track the forecast closely.
Not so with earthquakes. Earthquakes hit suddenly and without warning. There’s no chance to prepare — just to react once the ground starts shaking.
Like an earthquake, high blood pressure lurks beneath the surface until it “suddenly” appears as a symptom, the result of significant damage you never saw coming.
For this reason, I want to drive home a key point: Don’t wait to feel symptoms (like fatigue) before taking action to get your blood pressure under control. Early detection and prevention are far more effective tools than attempting to clean up after catastrophe strikes.
Under the Surface: What High Blood Pressure Does Over Time
The most common symptom of worsening blood pressure is no symptom at all. But that doesn’t mean nothing’s happening.
Think of it like erosion. We don’t usually notice the gradual wearing of wind and dust on rocks. At any specific moment, it seems inconsequential. But when you visit Arches National Park, you suddenly appreciate the incredible power of small activities over time.
High blood pressure constantly exerts “small activity” on your blood vessels, changing their landscape not in days or weeks, but in years. And because it doesn’t cause symptoms, it doesn’t seem urgent, and it’s easy to ignore.
As you ignore it, though, chronic high blood pressure provokes low-grade inflammation within the delicate lining of your arterial walls. As part of the attempted healing process, scar tissue and plaque build up within the vessels. This plaque accumulation, coupled with inflammation, leads to stiffening and narrowing of the blood vessels.
Initially, these vascular changes are mild enough to not impede blood flow. But eventually, rigid, clogged blood vessels struggle to deliver adequate blood supply throughout the body. That deficit leads to tissue and organ damage, and, especially in the major organs of our heart, brain, kidneys, and liver, we begin to see disease occur.
Like erosion wearing down rock, high blood pressure wears down your system over time. And, unfortunately, much of the damage isn’t reversible once it reaches later stages.
When Symptoms Do Show Up
When high blood pressure remains uncontrolled for long enough, bothersome symptoms eventually surface. Some of the common symptoms that crop up with uncontrolled high blood pressure include:
- Shortness of breath
- Fluttering sensation or pain in the chest
- Arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), like atrial fibrillation
- Swelling in the lower extremities
- Erectile dysfunction
If you’ve reached this point and your symptoms are definitively tied to blood pressure, your risk of major health outcomes like heart attack, stroke, dementia, or kidney disease is much higher.
But this doesn’t mean there’s nothing you can do. It just means you’ve moved beyond the prevention stage and into management (and reversal, if possible). I recommend seeing your doctor promptly to discuss the best next steps you can take for your individual situation.
Take the Proactive Road
When it comes to high blood pressure, the earlier we can identify, monitor, and start taking preventative measures, the better. Prevention is much easier and more effective than correction or reversal.
If you’ve ever dabbled in garden or lawn care, you know how frustrating weeds can be. You also know how much more effective it is to pull a weed in its infancy before it establishes roots or spreads seeds. When you don’t, that same weed just seems to get more stubborn as time goes by.
A few high blood pressure readings on a cuff may not seem too threatening without any symptoms to accompany them. Too, the idea of taking medication, especially for a “silent” problem, isn’t appealing to many people.
But, as you’ve seen, high blood pressure seizes every second you give it to wear away at your body. How you respond in your 30s and 40s is what sets the stage for your health in the coming years.
How to Respond to High Blood Pressure
When you discover hypertension, not taking action is an action in itself. It allows the problem to progress, becoming more entrenched and stubborn, and potentially more difficult to treat. Where you once needed one medication, you now need two — or perhaps a specialist, intensive testing, or invasive interventions.
If you’d like to avoid the high blood pressure symptoms mentioned above — not to mention the more serious health outcomes — I recommend making the effort to be proactive today.
Get your blood pressure checked regularly and discuss it with your doctor. Take the time to understand your numbers and learn what levels deserve attention.
If you already have a hypertension diagnosis, prioritize working with your doctor to keep levels under control through the appropriate lifestyle adjustments and/or medication. Doing so provides your best insurance policy against debilitating illness in the future.
The takeaway here? Don’t discount high blood pressure just because you’re symptom-free. Accept elevated levels as the threat they are and work with your doctor to tame them.
So, if you’re feeling tired and you’re concerned it’s related to your blood pressure, see your doctor. But even if you’re not feeling tired and you suspect elevated blood pressure, it’s worth starting a conversation — so you never have to experience that symptom in the first place.
Dr. Wright joined Brentwood MD in 2022 as the model allows him to spend more time connecting with patients and build a foundation of exceptional care. He is a Nashville native and completed his family medicine residency at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, where he also served as Chief Resident. He believes that your health deserves a prominent position on your priority list, and would be honored to serve you and your family.