Vasoconstriction: Causes, symptoms, and treatment

Blood vessels are designed to be dynamic, that is they can widen and narrow according to need. This is because the blood vessels have a thin layer of muscle, which contracts or expands whenever required. Constriction or narrowing of blood vessels is a useful process when carried out adequately. It causes heat to stay in the body and prevents blood flow during dangerous bleeding emergencies. However, if vasoconstriction is taking place abnormally, then it can be quite harmful. Whenever the blood vessels constrict, the surrounding area of the body turns blue and there is a reduced delivery of essential nutrients causing serious effects.[1]

Causes of Vasoconstriction

Bad Fat:

The body is not equipped to handle too much bad fat and cholesterol. Trans-saturated fat and cholesterol, when consumed, start to accumulate in the blood vessels. This causes the area of the vessel to reduce, which impairs blood flow. Thus saturated fats have very dangerous effects on cardiac health. Food products like full-fat kinds of butter, cream, yogurt, fried good and fatty meat should be avoided to protect the blood vessels.


Salt is known to cause hypertension and cardiac problems, for a very long time. These effects of salt are linked to vasoconstriction. Excessive salt intake causes the body to retain a lot of water. The volume of blood increases and vessels constrict to help maintain blood pressure. This phenomenon affects the kidney more than it affects any other organ. To prevent this, abstinence from processed food, canned goods, and salty meats should be practiced.


Blood vessels have a special type of receptors which act to keep the vessels wide. Caffeine blocks those receptors and thus leads to narrowed vessels. Caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea, and strong sodas contain a good quantity of caffeine and can lead to vasoconstriction.


Licorice is a native Mediterranean herb which is used for a variety of ailments like stomach ulcers, colic, gastritis and respiratory infections. Licorice contains a substance called Glycyrrhizin acid. This substance causes the body to lose potassium and to retain sodium. The increased quantity of sodium in the body causes water retention which leads to vasoconstriction. Consumption of licorice should be especially avoided if you suffer from high blood pressure or low body potassium levels.


Anti-histamines are popular medications used for allergic conditions. They are also used as over the counter sleeping aids due to their sedating properties. Blood vessels have histamine (H1) receptors all over them. Whenever histamine comes in contact with these receptors, the vessels dilate or widen. Anti-histamines block the contact of histamine with these receptors and cause vasoconstriction.

Refined carbohydrates:

Refined carbohydrates are sugars which take a long time to be absorbed in the blood. White bread, white rice, and whole grains are examples of refined carbohydrates. These do not cause vasoconstriction directly. What happens is that these refined carbs cause the blood glucose levels to be elevated for a longer time. The elevated blood glucose reduces the amount of nitric oxide, which is a vasodilator, ultimately leading to vasoconstriction.


Alcohol has a dual effect which depends on the amount of alcohol consumed. If enough alcohol is consumed to cause intoxication, then the vessel relax and dilate. However, consumption of any more than that leads to vasoconstriction. This is why alcohol can worsen conditions like a migraine and frostbite, where the vessels are already constricted.


Nicotine is a stimulant which is found in high quantities in cigarettes. Nicotine is known to cause vasoconstriction, which leads to hypertension. This causes reduced delivery of blood to the heart and can cause conditions like heart attack and stroke.


Cocaine is another type of stimulant which causes vasoconstriction. It is a drug of abuse and has serious health effects. Cocaine consumption can also lead to heart attacks and stroke owing to hypertension developed by vasoconstriction.

Monosodium glutamate:

Monosodium glutamate is a substance which is found in canned and processed foods and functions as a flavor enhancer. It opens calcium channels in the body leading to vasoconstriction. Due to these effects, monosodium glutamate can cause hypertension.


Tyramine is a substance which is found in fermented foods like aged cheeses, smoked and pickled fish, chocolates and alcoholic beverages. The body usually has stored nor-epinephrine in small packages. Nor-epinephrine causes vasoconstriction. Tyramine causes the nor-epinephrine to come out of its packages and circulate in the body. Anybody who already suffers from hypertension should consume tyramine-containing products with caution.

Some medications:

Drugs like pseudoephedrine, amphetamines, vasopressin, and epinephrine are some of the many drugs which lead to vasoconstriction when made use of.

Some medical conditions:

There are some medical conditions which can cause the blood vessels to narrow down. Raynaud’s disease causes the small blood vessels of the fingers to constrict when exposed to cold temperatures. Buerger’s disease is seen in smokers where the blood vessels in the feet constrict. Migraine headaches happen because the blood vessels in the scalp and the brain constrict.

Symptoms of vasoconstriction

Some of the most common symptoms of vasoconstriction are:

  1. Elevated blood pressure
  2. Painful cramps
  3. Dilated pupils
  4. Paleness of skin color
  5. Headaches
  6. Numbness in hands and feet
  7. Tingling in toes and fingers
  8. Blurred vision
  9. Muscle control problems
  10. Slurred speech

Treatment of vasoconstriction

If the blood vessels of the body stay constricted for a very long time, blood flow gets impaired. This causes hypertension and increases the risk of conditions like heart attacks and strokes. Treatment for vasoconstriction should be started as soon as symptoms start appearing.


There is a wide variety of medications which can be used to combat vasoconstriction. Drugs like calcium channel blockers, nitric oxide, sildenafil and bosentan cause vasodilation and can be especially useful to treat vasoconstriction. Medications causing vasoconstriction like decongestants and epinephrine should be avoided and should be only used when it is absolutely necessary.


Exercise enhances blood flow and nutrient delivery to the body. Physiologically, the blood vessels are conditioned to dilate whenever we exercise. This effect can be used therapeutically to fight vasoconstriction.

Avoidance of cold:

Exposure to cold temperatures causes the blood vessels by constricting. This is because the muscle layer in the vessel contracts when it comes in contact with low temperatures. Blood vessels of the fingers and toes are especially vulnerable to cold temperature. Avoiding immersing hands and feet in cold water and abstaining from going out in the cold protects from vasoconstriction. This method is especially useful for people suffering from Raynaud’s disease.

Stay away from stress:

It has been found that stress also leads to vasoconstriction. Sometimes people suffering from Raynaud’s disease experience vasoconstriction in response to stress too. Eliminating stress from one’s lifestyle can prove to be quite beneficial when treating vasoconstriction. Massage is also a great way to relax yourself, check out these relaxing massage techniques.

Healthy eating habits:

Foods containing salt, tyramine and refined sugars all lead to vasoconstriction. Healthier substitutes like fruits, vegetable, nuts, and seeds are free from these harmful products and protect the body from the detrimental effects of vasoconstriction.

Avoid smoking:

Cigarettes contain large quantities of nicotine. Not only nicotine causes vasoconstriction, it also is highly addictive. Smoking should not be a part of your lifestyle if you want to treat vasoconstriction.

Avoid recreational drugs:

A distance should be maintained from recreational drugs like cocaine which cause vasoconstriction. By staying away from them, you not only protect your body from vasoconstriction but also stay protected from other health hazards too.

Abstaining from alcohol:

Abstinence from alcohol protects the vessels from the harmful effects of vasoconstriction and prevents conditions like hypertension and liver failure.

Treat underlying conditions:

Conditions like Buerger’s disease, migraine headaches and Raynaud’s have an underlying cause of the vasoconstriction which you experience. It is advised to visit a physician and to get the necessary treatment to manage these diseases causing vasoconstriction.

Do not ignore symptoms:

Whenever you experience any of the symptoms of vasoconstriction, do not ignore them. Visit your physician as soon as possible to determine the cause which is leading to the vessels of the body being constricted.

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