Blood pressure, caffeine, and thou
January 8, 2008 12:14 PM   Subscribe

Why would I be getting anxiety from caffeine when I never used to have such a problem?

Up until maybe 3 months ago I was able to drink oodles of coffee and tea with no problem. Lately though that's changed and caffeine makes me a bit anxious with the butterflies-in-stomach feeling. I'm male, 39, nonsmoker but sedentary.

Possibly related: I went to the doctor last month out of slight concern over blood pressure which tested 135/90 at home, higher than the 110/80 I had several months ago. I noticed this when feeling anxious during a weeklong reaction I had to some poison ivy and checking myself with a cuff to see if my BP was up, which it was. I went to the doctor and the high BP was confirmed at their office. The doctor didn't see any reason to be concerned and I elected for bloodwork and urinalysis just to be safe, which came back fine. The BP has come down a bit since then (5 weeks ago) but not much. So does caffeine's adverse side effects tend to be synergestic with elevated blood pressure? 135/90 doesn't seem all that high.

Also it's not clear to me why my BP baseline would suddenly be running higher than usual, and as mentioned earlier my doctor didn't have any thoughts.

Also there's a possibility the anxiety could be a manifestation of reflux, but I don't know whether I have reflux or not or whether such a thing could be related. I'm aware reflux can have weird manifestations like that.

Hell, maybe it's psychosomatic and I simply never noticed the anxiety before. It's possible. Who knows.

Any ideas or anecdote regarding my BP, anxeity, or caffeine intolerance?
posted by mr. creosote to Health & Fitness (22 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Possible additional slant: Does anyone here have high BP, yet finds caffeine goes down just fine, with no side effects?
posted by mr. creosote at 12:19 PM on January 8, 2008

have you tried NOT consuming caffeine for a few days and then taking your BP? The two aren't necessarily related. IANAD.
posted by desjardins at 12:21 PM on January 8, 2008

Response by poster: Yes, the BP readings are at least 24 hours after any caffeine... not sure if I'd need more time to elapse though. My habit is one cup of coffee or green tea every 1 to 3 days for mental energy... I'm not a coffeepot drinker.
posted by mr. creosote at 12:27 PM on January 8, 2008

Anxiety manifests itself in lots of different ways and will change them up on you without warning, unfortunately. Sometimes I can have coffee, sometimes not. Sometimes I can smoke pot, sometimes not. Sometimes it's all in my back, sometimes I get fibromyalgic symptoms, sometimes panic attacks. Usually not more thanm one in a week. Get some exercise. It's the best way I've found to keep my baseline anxiety low.
posted by Ambrosia Voyeur at 12:33 PM on January 8, 2008

I've noticed that if I'm anxious or riled up either while drinking coffee, or immediately after, I'll get that unpleasant butterflies-in-stomach feeling, too, and be unable to shake it for hours (usually only by eating something starchy). And it doesn't require any sort of panic-level anxiety -- just being startled, or starting to worry about my day, or suddenly realizing I'm running late and having to bustle to get out of the house, or getting into any sort of mild altercation, like with a rude cashier, can do it.
posted by occhiblu at 12:35 PM on January 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Anecdotal, but my caffeine tolerance (which used to be legendary) sort of "reset" itself a couple of years ago. I don't know if it was anxiety (planning a wedding didn't seem more stressful than grad school had been, but maybe it was) or just the abuse I'd put my body through during years of all-night paper-writing. All I know is that, if I drink more than two small cups of coffee a day, or one diet coke, I feel funny now. I mentioned it at the time to my doctor, who didn't seem concerned.

And I was never the kind to get caffeine-withdrawal headaches; I'd just be sleepy without it. I don't know whether that's relevant.
posted by paleography at 12:42 PM on January 8, 2008

could the coffee be causing some stomach upset? sometimes that can feel like butterflies.

also, it's really easy to get obsessed with blood pressure, which causes anxiety, which causes more can see how the vicious cycle develops. you get worried about the number, so you get anxious when you test, causing your pressure to go up.

why not cut down on caffeine and start some light exercise? that should help with both the anxiety feeling and the blood pressure.
posted by thinkingwoman at 12:45 PM on January 8, 2008

Same thing happened to me a few years ago, in my mid-thirties. A regular coffee drinker, I suddenly developed symptoms of what I now know to be General Anxiety Disorder. At the time I didn't know what was wrong with me, and feared much worse. Long story short...the GAD eventually subsided, and I've been anxiety free for years, but I'm still left with a hypersensitivity to caffeine. A can of Coke or cup of tea is usually fine, but a coffee will give me noticable anxiety symptoms. Needless to say I avoid it.
posted by rocket88 at 12:49 PM on January 8, 2008

thinkingwoman is giving great advice, and I have to second it. cut down on or quit the caffeine, and go for some walks or runs. it can make a world of difference.
posted by malaprohibita at 12:51 PM on January 8, 2008

I have not info for you other than to tell you you're not alone. After about 15 years of drinking high-octane coffee throughout the day, I recently discovered that if I drink more than 8oz of caffeine I freak out. Like amphetamine psychosis-style freak-out*. I've completely lost the ability to handle caffeine.

*hyperbole, but only just barely.
posted by lekvar at 1:02 PM on January 8, 2008

Short answer, mr. creosote, is that you're getting older. Time to take care of that body of yours, as it may be showing signs of wear.
posted by Mister_A at 1:04 PM on January 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

Your caffeine intake is really quite low. Maybe it's not the caffeine.
posted by desjardins at 1:05 PM on January 8, 2008

It's my understanding that caffeine doesn't raise blood pressure for very long in individuals who aren't hypertensive unless they significantly change the amount they consume. Someone who has three cups of coffee per day, for example, wouldn't see an elevated bp unless they suddenly started drinking six cups, (or replaced their Folger's with Peet's). This just-published paper suggests that it's best to wait at least four hours after consuming coffee to measure your bp to eliminate the possibility that caffeine is messing with the readings.
posted by Thoughtcrime at 1:05 PM on January 8, 2008

This article abstract may be of interest.
posted by rocket88 at 1:25 PM on January 8, 2008

Seconding the age possibility. My caffeine tolerance tanked as I got older. I went from caffeine not noticeably affecting me, to it causing crankiness and headaches, within about a year. I ended up quitting it altogether because it wasn't worth the trouble.
posted by greenmagnet at 1:58 PM on January 8, 2008

My caffeine tolerance also tanked with age. It got significantly worse during and after 2 pregnancies too. Since you are MR creosote, though, I suspect that pregnancy isn't an issue...
posted by selfmedicating at 3:42 PM on January 8, 2008

It could also be a sugar issue. Do you take much sugar with your tea or coffee?

When your blood sugar crashes, your body can produce adrenaline in order to get more glucose into the blood stream.
posted by Laen at 3:52 PM on January 8, 2008

From a biochemical perspective your symptoms aren't surprising. The neurotransmitters epinephrine (adrenaline) and the related norepinephrine can cause both anxiety and high blood pressure. They cause the "fight or flight" response when you're in danger, but they also play an important role in your day-to-day brain chemistry. Caffeine can definitely make this worse.

This could be indicative of some underlying problem, or it could be a temporary phase. Your brain chemistry changes over time. Either way, this is something you should be talking to your doctor about. I would suggest that you ask your doc about beta blockers. They're cheap, they're pretty safe, they lower your blood pressure, and they can have a side effect of mildly reducing your anxiety.
posted by TungstenChef at 5:40 PM on January 8, 2008

Your caffeine intake is really quite low. Maybe it's not the caffeine.
posted by desjardins at 4:05 PM on January 8 [+] [!]

so you just started cutting down on the caffeine? from "oodles" to a cup every couple of days... maybe this is a withdrawal symptom, what if you started drinking more coffee?

but an addict would say that wouldn't he...
posted by geos at 9:08 PM on January 8, 2008

Brain chemistry is thoroughly interesting. From what I gathered it is an exceedingly simple process (1+1=2) yet at the exact same time it is absolutely incomprehensible.

My guess is the slightly elevated heart rate combined with being ill kicked 'flight' into gear. (As in flight or fight). And now caffeine sets off the reaction. It may just be specifically caffeine that does it or it might be your heart rate.

Experiment (not with exercise though, I think it tends to be more of a 'fight' thing so it may or may not - depending? - be a relevant test at all). Things that have even a fraction of stress or jumpy fright type element to them will do the trick. Whowever that turns out might give away the answer for you??

But definitely do not pay it any mind - or it will snowball on you :) Think of it as a friend that is positive 'the sky is falling' - the last thing you do soothe them is join in as well :)
posted by mu~ha~ha~ha~har at 9:39 PM on January 8, 2008

When I was going through a stressful time, coffee made super-incredibly stressed, and I could only drink tea. Once my baseline anxiety had returned to its normal level, I returned to my previous coffee-swilling ways.
posted by salvia at 9:57 PM on January 8, 2008

Anxiety raises BP. For the purpose of discovering whether you have hypertension, BP should be measured in the doctor's office, by someone wearing a white coat, and you should be relaxed, seated, and calm. Nicotine and caffeine both raise BP and ideally you would not have had any the day you got your BP tested.

Why measure BP this way? Because this is how it was measured for the studies that defined what hypertension is and when it needed to be treated. The white coat, incidentally, added about 5 points to the systolic BP, although patients were divided into responders whose BP went up about 15 points and nonresponders who it didn't seem to affect. We think that's probably because white-coated people make some folks anxious.

Anxiety makes you secrete more adrenaline than usual, raising your BP temporarily. That's not the same as essential hypertension. Caffeine also raises BP a little, by a different mechanism. My 2 cups a day raise my systolic BP about 10 points, which is a usual reaction.

As far as why you're more anxious lately, I think that question's outside the scope of AskMe to answer. It probably does have an answer, though.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2008 [1 favorite]

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