With most of our focus on the pandemic in recent memory, many of us have neglected our health and avoided doctors visits for routine checkups. Unfortunately, this has led to a rise in health problems that could have been avoided with intervention. One such condition, high blood pressure or hypertension, otherwise referred to as the “silent killer,” has taken its toll. A lot of this is related to the stress around these times, but a lot of it has to do with a poor diet and lack of exercise. Even though you don’t think there’s a problem present, your heart is working harder than it needs to and harming you if your blood pressure is high.
When a person is stressed out from feeling anxious, it’s common to reach for a drug like Valium to control their blood pressure. But if you’re battling high blood pressure, you’re not alone. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an estimated 50 percent of adults have hypertension. It’s defined as a systolic blood pressure greater than 130 mmHg or a diastolic blood pressure greater than 80 mmHg. Only a quarter of adults diagnosed have it under control, with around 37 million with uncontrolled hypertension with a blood pressure of 140/90 or above. If you’re someone who has a prescription for anxiety medication, you might wonder how diazepam affects your heart.
Even before the pandemic, high blood pressure was the primary contributing cause of death in the country, leading to the demise of 500,000 people. The costs to society were outrageous, costing 131 billion from 2003 to 2014. Uncontrolled blood pressure is a common phenomenon, especially in men, who are diagnosed more often than women. The number of Americans dying of heart attacks and strokes each year remains high and continues to increase. Hypertension is the No. 1 cardiovascular-related cause of death in the U.S. Knowing this information, you’ll want to find a way to get it under control, but Valium may not be your best option.
Valium is a commonly prescribed benzodiazepine used to relieve anxiety and tension, so Valium and blood pressure should complement one another, right? Well, how diazepam affects the heart may not do what you’d expect it to in the long term. If you’re battling anxiety or one of the conditions benzos treat, you have an overactive nervous system that can’t produce enough GABA to calm itself, meaning your stress isn’t linked to high blood pressure. However, it can lead to a temporary and dramatic spike in blood pressure. If you endure one of these spikes, it can damage your blood vessels, kidneys, and heart, similar to hypertension and your body.
Benzodiazepines produce hypotensive effects. A study where participants were given 5 mg of the medication had their vitals tested once the drug took effect to determine how their blood pressure, heart rate, muscle sympathetic nerve activity, and heart rate variability were affected. The volunteers showed decreased systolic and mean blood pressure and a reduction in muscle sympathetic nerve activity. It might sound great, but their heart rate did not change. The studies found a connection between Valium and your blood pressure, but it shouldn’t be prescribed for hypertension.
Benzodiazepines produce sedative effects that can help you relax, but they’re highly addictive and not designed for long-term use. Those who become dependent or addicted to Valium will experience life-threatening withdrawal symptoms should they run out, cut back, or try to stop without help. Below, we’ll discuss how it affects your blood pressure and alternative options.
What Is Valium?
Valium, also known by its generic name diazepam, can only be obtained with a prescription from your doctor. It’s used to treat nervousness, anxiety, or muscle spasms and belongs to a class of drugs known as central nervous system (CNS) depressants. Valium is sometimes used during alcohol withdrawal to reduce the probability of seizures. As a depressant, it inhibits the nervous system and slows down your body when it cannot produce enough GABA. Valium should never be taken for more than two weeks and only used as your doctor prescribes it to you.
The most common side effects of Valium include the following:
- Double vision
- Muscle spasms
- Ataxia (loss of balance)
- Respiratory depression
- Speech issues
How Does Valium Affect Blood Pressure?
Despite its effectiveness in treating panic attacks, often resulting in temporary spikes in blood pressure and heart rate, Valium is not an effective long-term treatment for your blood pressure. You must speak to your doctor to determine the best course of treatment.
High Blood Pressure
Essential hypertension activates your sympathetic nervous system and is a direct contributor to high blood pressure elevation. The American Journal of Hypertension published a study showing that hypertension is associated with major depressive disorders and general anxiety. Although benzos are routinely prescribed for their anxiolytic properties, they decrease catecholamine uptake in certain regions of our brain. Medications like Valium have proven effective in managing acute blood pressure elevation in individuals without target organ damage.
A single dose of Valium during blood pressure elevations can help avoid unnecessary trips to the emergency department. It’s also been shown to reduce blood pressure before visiting the dentist for those experiencing severe anxiety before a procedure. However, there isn’t enough supporting data to show how it affects blood pressure long-term.
Low Blood Pressure
The opposite of hypertension is hypotension, which is a patient with low blood pressure. It’s something to consider before using a depressant like Valium that will cause your blood pressure to drop even further. You must speak to your doctor before considering treatment, as Valium can worsen your hypotension. It can lead to the following side effects:
- Blurry vision
- Clammy skin
These effects are similar to what Valium will produce, so you must take caution. Valium will lower your blood pressure even further and could be fatal. Only you and your doctor can determine whether the benefits outweigh the risks.
Beta Blockers vs. Valium
The most common treatment for high blood pressure and other heart issues is beta blockers. However, doctors have also been known to prescribe them off-label for issues like anxiety when they believe benzos aren’t the right course of action. Valium is in a completely different category of drugs, but it’s used specifically for issues related to an overactive nervous system, such as anxiety. Medical professionals consider beta blockers for short-term event-related anxiety, including social phobia or stage fright. They will not affect the psychological or emotional aspects of stress or worry. In contrast, Valium is more of a sedative that calms you during acute episodes of anxiety or panic attacks.
Beta blockers are also known as beta-adrenergic blocking agents that block specific neurotransmitters, such as norepinephrine and epinephrine. It works to prevent them from finding beta receptors on nerves that dilate blood vessels, resulting in reduced blood pressure and heart rate. Beta blockers were designed to manage high blood pressure, whereas Valium was synthesized as an alternative to barbiturates for anxiety, insomnia, and seizures.
Valium is an extremely addictive drug, whereas beta blockers are not addictive at all. Beta blockers are the preferred treatment for treating hypertension for this reason. Although Valium might be considered for sudden bouts of anxiety or panic attacks, you should never use it for long-term treatment. You can become dependent on benzodiazepines in as little as two weeks after your first dose, meaning you can develop severe withdrawal symptoms when you stop using them. Even worse, you can become addicted to them and have long-term issues in addition to your high blood pressure. Beta blockers should be the primary means of treatment if you’re battling heart disease to avoid these problems.
If you’ve been using Valium to manage anxiety and fallen under its spell, and you’re left feeling hopeless, there are ways to overcome Valium addiction. You’ve likely experienced some withdrawal symptoms and can attest to their severity. For this reason, professional addiction treatment will be the only option to overcome it safely in a controlled environment. Trained specialists will gradually ease you off the drug, resulting in fewer side effects and a lowered risk of developing seizures. Don’t go another day worrying about something we can treat.