Vasoconstriction: Your Blood Vessels at Work (2023)

Vasoconstriction is narrowing or constriction of the blood vessels. It happens when smooth muscles in blood vessel walls tighten. This makes the blood vessel opening smaller.

“Vaso” actually means blood vessel. Vasoconstriction may also be called vasospasm. It is a normal process that helps keep your body in healthy balance.

Vasoconstriction may occur to:

  • stabilize blood pressure or raise blood pressure
  • reduce loss of body heat in cold temperatures
  • control how blood is distributed throughout your body
  • send more nutrients and oxygen to organs that need them
  • protect your body against blood and fluid loss

On the other hand, abnormal vasoconstriction can trigger some health conditions. This includes high blood pressure and headache pain. In some cases, too much blood vessel narrowing may be a side effect of drugs and foods, such as caffeine and salt.

Read on to learn about the causes of vasoconstriction and how it affects your body.

Vasoconstriction reduces the volume or space inside affected blood vessels. When blood vessel volume is lowered, blood flow is also reduced. At the same time, the resistance or force of blood flow is raised. This causes higher blood pressure. Untreated high blood pressure (hypertension) can lead to health conditions over time, like vision loss, stroke, or a damaged heart.

The opposite of vasoconstriction is vasodilation. This is when blood vessels relax and widen, increasing blood flow and dropping blood pressure.

(Video) Vasoconstriction and Vasodilation

Think of vasoconstriction as drinking through a thin straw. It takes more suction force to take a sip. In comparison, vasodilation is like gulping a drink easily and quickly through a wide straw.

Abnormal vasoconstriction may cause or worsen high blood pressure. Chronic high blood pressure can increase your risk of heart disease and stroke. Some health conditions and drugs can cause too much vasoconstriction or make it happen in areas that it shouldn’t, such as parts of the brain.

Foods high in sodium can put stress on your blood vessels, causing them to constrict. If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, avoid or limit the following foods:

  • packaged and fast foods
  • deli meat
  • canned soups

Alcohol can also raise your blood pressure, notes the Mayo Clinic.

Eat these 13 foods to lower your blood pressure.

Vasoconstriction can both help alleviate and cause migraines and headaches.

When vasoconstriction helps headaches

Enlarged blood vessels in the head can set off migraine or headache pain. Medications to treat this type of pain often work by causing vasoconstriction. This helps the blood vessels constrict and stop excess blood flow.

(Video) Blood Vessels, Part 1 - Form and Function: Crash Course Anatomy & Physiology #27

Some headache and migraine medications contain caffeine for this reason.

When vasoconstriction can cause headaches

On the other hand, too much caffeine can cause excess vasoconstriction in the brain. This may trigger a migraine or headache. The American Migraine Association explains that this may happen because the body becomes dependent on caffeine. Withdrawal symptoms from coffee and headache medications include headache pain, nausea, and fatigue.

Shock is a general term for the body’s response to a number of different emergency conditions. These conditions all cause low blood pressure. The body’s first response is to protect the brain, heart, and lungs. It does this by narrowing the blood vessels in the hands, feet, and limbs.

This emergency vasoconstriction temporarily raises blood pressure. It helps keep blood flowing to your most needed organs — the organs needed for life.

Shock may happen due to:

  • allergic reaction (anaphylactic shock)
  • septic infection (bacterial, viral, or fungal)
  • heart attack
  • heart disease
  • low blood sugar
  • blood clot
  • heavy blood loss (internal or external)
  • heavy loss of fluids (dehydration, vomiting, diarrhea)
  • serious burns
  • spine injury
  • severe hypothyroidism

Vasoconstrictor or pressor medications help relieve low blood pressure and other symptoms. These drugs may be used to raise blood pressure when someone is in shock, has excessive bleeding, or has a severe allergic reaction.

Other prescription drugs trigger vasoconstriction to help reduce inflammation, swelling, or excess bleeding. For example, a nosebleed may be stopped with a vasoconstrictor drug.

(Video) Capillary Blood Flow

Vasoconstriction medications include:

  • alpha-adrenoceptor agonists
  • vasopressin analogs
  • epinephrine
  • norepinephrine
  • phenylephrine (Sudafed PE)
  • dopamine
  • dobutamine
  • migraine and headache medications (serotonin 5‐hydroxytryptamine agonists or triptans)

Some health conditions and medications can cause abnormal vasoconstriction. This can lead to health problems depending on where this happens and for how long.


Vasoconstriction in the brain or cerebral vasospasm can lead to a stroke or a strokelike injury. This may happen after there’s bleeding in the brain due to a blood vessel rupture or surgery. The blood vessel spasms or narrows to try to save blood. This cuts off the supply of blood and oxygen to a part of the brain.

Symptoms of a cerebral vasospasm stroke include:

  • severe headache pain
  • dizziness, loss of balance
  • numbness or weakness on one side of the face and body
  • difficulty speaking
  • difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
  • difficulty walking

Read more on what to do for signs of a stroke and recognizing signs of stroke unique to women.

Raynaud’s phenomenon

Raynaud’s phenomenon causes some areas of the body, such as the fingers and toes, to feel cold or numb. In this condition, the small arteries that supply blood to these areas spasm or narrow. This limits how much blood can reach these outer areas.

Raynaud’s phenomenon can also affect the nose, lips, ears, and nipples. It can be triggered by being in the cold too often. This may happen to people who work outside in colder regions or who spend a lot of time on an ice rink, such as ice skaters, hockey players, and Zamboni drivers.

This condition isn’t harmful, but it can be uncomfortable. In some cases, Raynaud’s phenomenon may increase the risk of skin infections and slow wound healing in the affected areas. This happens because normal blood flow is needed to carry oxygen, nutrients, and infection-fighting immune cells throughout the body. Vasoconstriction limits blood circulation.

Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome

Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS) is a range of disorders caused by vasoconstriction in the brain. It’s reversible in most cases. You’ll recover fully within months.

In serious cases, RCVS can lead to stroke. This happens when the blood vessels narrow too much or for too long and cut off blood flow and oxygen to parts of the brain.

(Video) [What's the difference] Vasoconstriction vs. Vasodilation

RCVS can sometimes occur in babies. It can lead to high blood pressure, headache pain, and stroke. It may be triggered by the side effects of medications. These include chemotherapy drugs for eye and brain cancers in babies and children.

Symptoms of RCVS include:

  • sudden, intense headache
  • changes in vision
  • seizures
  • difficulty speaking
  • difficulty understanding speech
  • weakness, usually on one side of the body

Smooth muscles — the type of muscle in the blood vessel walls — can’t be controlled voluntarily like the skeletal muscles in your limbs. Blood vessels are automatically controlled by chemical signals in the body that tell the smooth muscles to constrict or dilate (widen).

The nerve chemical messengers and hormones that tell blood vessels to constrict include:

  • norepinephrine
  • epinephrine
  • angiotensin II
  • vasopressin

Arteries and arterioles (small arteries) have muscular walls. They’re the main blood vessels involved in vasoconstriction. Veins can also narrow. Capillaries are tiny, thin-walled blood vessels that can’t constrict.

Vasoconstriction of the blood vessels is a natural part of your body balancing its systems. Vasoconstriction is needed to help maintain healthy blood flow and keep your body temperature from getting too cold. It can also raise blood pressure when it’s necessary.

Some medications mimic your body’s natural signals to cause vasoconstriction. This can be life-saving. For example, vasoconstriction drugs can stop blood pressure from dropping too low during a serious allergic reaction and reduce blood loss in an injury.

(Video) Blood 3- Vasoconstriction

Speak to a healthcare provider if you have questions about your blood pressure, heart rate, or other symptoms like headaches.


What does vasoconstriction do to blood vessels? ›

Vasoconstriction is the narrowing (constriction) of blood vessels by small muscles in their walls. When blood vessels constrict, blood flow is slowed or blocked. Vasoconstriction may be slight or severe. It may result from disease, drugs, or psychological conditions.

What happens to blood pressure during vasoconstriction? ›

The constriction of arterioles increases resistance, which causes a decrease in blood flow to downstream capillaries and a larger decrease in blood pressure.

What increases vasoconstriction of blood vessels? ›

Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels, which is the opposite of vasodilation. Causes of vasoconstriction include exposure to cold which leads to peripheral vasoconstriction; stress; smoking; medications like NSAIDs; and Raynaud phenomenon.

Do blood vessels Vasoconstrict during exercise? ›

At the onset of exercise, the sympathetic nervous system causes heart rate to elevate and blood vessels to constrict, according to This constriction response is called vasoconstriction. During vasoconstriction, blood flow is directed specifically to the muscles to help them work more efficiently.

What happens as a result of vasoconstriction? ›

Vasoconstriction reduces the volume or space inside affected blood vessels. When blood vessel volume is lowered, blood flow is also reduced. At the same time, the resistance or force of blood flow is raised. This causes higher blood pressure.

Why does vasoconstriction occur during exercise? ›

This reflex renal vasoconstriction helps direct blood flow from nonexercising tissues, such as the kidneys, to tissues with increased metabolic demands, such as exercising muscle. Furthermore, reflex renal vasoconstriction helps to maintain blood pressure by offsetting the vasodilatation in exercising muscle beds.

When does vasoconstriction occur? ›

Vasoconstriction is what healthcare providers call it when the muscles around your blood vessels tighten to make the space inside smaller. This is the opposite of vasodilation, which opens your blood vessels to make the space inside bigger.

How does vasoconstriction affect heart rate? ›

During vasoconstriction, the heart needs to pump harder to get blood through the constricted veins and arteries. This can lead to higher blood pressure.

Does vasoconstriction make you cold? ›

An initial response to whole-body or local exposure of the extremities to cold is a strong vasoconstriction, leading to a rapid decrease in hand and foot temperature.

What controls the vasoconstriction? ›

Cutaneous vasoconstriction is predominantly controlled through the sympathetic part of the autonomic nervous system. Most sympathetic activation promotes vasoconstriction.

What foods constrict blood vessels? ›

Foods That Cause Constricted Veins
  • Chocolate & Coffee: While caffeine in small doses can be a good energy-booster, is also causes blood vessels to narrow — therefore increasing blood pressure. ...
  • Pizza & Potato Chips: We know, we're killing you. ...
  • French Fries: Saturated fats are not your friends.

What medications cause vasoconstriction? ›

Avoid medications that cause vasoconstriction (narrowing of the blood vessels) – Such medications include decongestants containing phenylephrine or pseudoephedrine, other amphetamines, diet pills, some migraine remedies containing ergotamine, herbs containing ephedra, and medications used to treat attention deficit ...

Does vasoconstriction happen after exercise? ›

The results from the present study show that acute blockade of α-adrenergic receptors in the vasculature of exercising skeletal muscles produces vasodilation. These data demonstrate that there is sympathetic vasoconstriction in active skeletal muscles even at high exercise intensities.

Which nervous system is responsible for blood vessel vasoconstriction during exercise? ›

Sympathetic nerve activity is integral to vasoconstriction and the maintenance of arterial blood pressure. Thus the interaction between somatic and sympathetic neuroeffector pathways underlies blood flow control to skeletal muscle during exercise.

Do vessels Vasodilate during exercise? ›

During exercise, oxygen delivery to skeletal muscle is elevated to meet the increased oxygen demand. The increase in blood flow to skeletal muscle is achieved by vasodilators formed locally in the muscle tissue, either on the intraluminal or on the extraluminal side of the blood vessels.

How do you know if your blood vessels are constricted? ›

Small vessel disease signs and symptoms include: Chest pain, squeezing or discomfort (angina), which may get worse with activity or emotional stress. Discomfort in the left arm, jaw, neck, back or abdomen along with chest pain. Shortness of breath.

How do you relax your blood vessels? ›

Nine of the Best Foods to Help Increase Blood Flow and...
  1. Pomegranate juice. Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants, which help open the blood vessels to allow more blood to flow through. ...
  2. Onions. ...
  3. Fatty fish. ...
  4. Beets. ...
  5. Leafy greens. ...
  6. Citrus fruits. ...
  7. Walnuts. ...
  8. Tomatoes.
Sep 23, 2020

At what temperature do blood vessels constrict? ›

Cheeks flushing or vasoconstriction: When temperatures hit 50 degrees, your blood vessels narrow to reduce blood flow near the body's surface. Sometimes the blood vessels dilate and burst, which causes redness. This can also numb your hands.

Does caffeine cause vasoconstriction? ›

Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties, meaning that blood vessels narrow to restrict blood flow, thereby alleviating the pain.

How long does it take for vasoconstriction to go away? ›

Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS) is a group of disorders characterized by severe headaches and a narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain. RCVS is reversible and patients often recover within three months; the condition is frequently missed and is more common than most physicians realize.

What does vasoconstriction feel like? ›

First, severe vasoconstriction reduces blood flow to the skin of the affected areas, causing the skin surface to feel cold to touch and to have a white color. The pale white color is due to virtually no blood flow to the skin.

Does anxiety cause vasoconstriction? ›

Anxiety can cause changes to the heart rate and blood circulation. A faster heart rate makes it easier to flee or fight, while increased blood flow brings fresh oxygen and nutrients to the muscles. When blood vessels narrow, this is called vasoconstriction, and it can affect body temperature.

Does warm water cause vasoconstriction? ›

The opposite happens in a hot shower because when immersed in hot water the blood vessels will dilate (vasodilation.) Furthermore, vasodilation slows down the heart rate and may decrease blood pressure through major blood vessels “arterioles”.

Does vasoconstriction make you feel hot? ›

Vasoconstriction is a response to being too cold. The process involves the narrowing of blood vessels at the skin surface to reduce heat loss through the surface of the skin. Vasodilation is a response to being too hot.

How to improve circulation? ›

What You Can Do To Boost Your Circulation
  1. Increase cardiovascular exercise. ...
  2. If you smoke, quit. ...
  3. Drink black or green tea. ...
  4. If you are anemic, take iron supplements or eat iron-rich food. ...
  5. Dry brush your body. ...
  6. Decrease stress. ...
  7. Include more omega-3 fatty acids in your diet. ...
  8. Wear compression socks and elevate your legs.
Oct 27, 2020

What drinks constrict blood vessels? ›

Caffeinated Foods and Drinks

Caffeine can cause the blood vessels to narrow. Soda, coffee, tea, energy drinks and chocolate are common sources of caffeine in the diet.

What drink is good for blood vessels? ›

Pomegranate juice is rich in polyphenol antioxidants, which research suggests can improve blood circulation. This juice also has nutrients, including vitamin C, which strengthens blood vessels and can improve blood flow in that way.

Are bananas good for blood vessels? ›

Packed with potassium, bananas can help improve blood flow by lowering blood pressure. Too much sodium in your diet can cause high blood pressure, but potassium helps the kidneys remove extra sodium from your body, which then passes through your urine. This helps relax blood vessels and enable blood flow.

What is the most powerful vasoconstrictor? ›

Human urotensin-II, the most potent mammalian vasoconstrictor identified to date, as a therapeutic target for the management of cardiovascular disease.

Where does vasoconstriction occur? ›

Vasoconstriction is the narrowing of the blood vessels resulting from contraction of the muscular wall of the vessels, in particular the large arteries and small arterioles. The process is the opposite of vasodilation, the widening of blood vessels.

Is caffeine a vasodilator or vasoconstrictor? ›

Direct Effects. Caffeine, by acting on the VSMC, generates a minimal initial contraction and then a significant vasodilator effect.

Do blood vessels dilate or constrict during exercise? ›

When you exercise the blood vessels that supply blood to your muscles and take blood away from your muscle dilate to allow for a massive increase in blood flow to your muscles.

Which part of the vein controls vasoconstriction? ›

Both vasoconstriction and vasodilation are regulated in part by small vascular nerves, known as nervi vasorum, or “nerves of the vessel,” that run within the walls of blood vessels.

What muscles constrict blood vessels? ›

Vascular smooth muscle is the type of smooth muscle that makes up most of the walls of blood vessels.
Vascular smooth muscle
Anatomical terminology
5 more rows

What type of muscle is involved in vasoconstriction? ›

In heart, vascular smooth muscle is a type of smooth muscle that contracts and regulates blood vessel tone, blood pressure and blood flow (Rzucidlo et al., 2007), which are integral to the function of heart.

What happens to the blood vessels leading to the working muscles during exercise? ›

During exercise, the cardiovascular system redistributes the blood so that more of it goes to the working muscles and less of it goes to other body organs such as the digestive system. This redirection of blood flow is caused by a mechanism (or process) called the vascular shunt mechanism.

Which organs show vasoconstriction during exercise? ›

Simultaneously with vasodilation in these three regions, a vasoconstriction occurs in the kidneys and gastrointestinal organs, due to an increase in activity of sympathetic neurons supplying them.

Can exercise unclog blood vessels? ›

Regular Exercise

One of the best ways to unclog arteries filled with plaque is to work out daily. Cardiovascular workouts like jogging, cycling, swimming, and brisk walking does wonders in reducing heart health risks and plaque.

Does vasoconstriction increase capillary pressure? ›

Capillary pressure (Pc)

In most forms of shock, capillary pressure decreases as a result of arteriolar vasoconstriction.

Does vasoconstriction increase blood flow speed? ›

Vasoconstriction, where the vessels constrict, decreases blood flow, and vasodilation, where the blood vessels expand, increases blood flow.

Does vasoconstriction cause vasodilation? ›

Vasoconstriction is the opposite of vasodilation. While vasodilation is the widening of your blood vessels, vasoconstriction is the narrowing of blood vessels. It's due to a contraction of muscles in the blood vessels. When vasoconstriction occurs, the blood flow to some of your body's tissues becomes restricted.

Does vasoconstriction redirect blood flow? ›

This response of the pulmonary circulation is known as hypoxic pulmonary vasoconstriction and is a protective physiological reflex that aims to divert blood flow away from hypoxic areas of the lungs to areas with better ventilation and oxygenation.

How long does vasoconstriction last? ›

Reversible cerebral vasoconstriction syndrome (RCVS) is a group of disorders characterized by severe headaches and a narrowing of the blood vessels in the brain. RCVS is reversible and patients often recover within three months; the condition is frequently missed and is more common than most physicians realize.

Does vasoconstriction increase heart rate? ›

During vasoconstriction, the heart needs to pump harder to get blood through the constricted veins and arteries.

Does caffeine constrict blood vessels? ›

Caffeine has vasoconstrictive properties, meaning that blood vessels narrow to restrict blood flow, thereby alleviating the pain.

How do you relax blood vessels? ›

Nine of the Best Foods to Help Increase Blood Flow and...
  1. Pomegranate juice. Pomegranate juice is rich in antioxidants, which help open the blood vessels to allow more blood to flow through. ...
  2. Onions. ...
  3. Fatty fish. ...
  4. Beets. ...
  5. Leafy greens. ...
  6. Citrus fruits. ...
  7. Walnuts. ...
  8. Tomatoes.
Sep 23, 2020

What does vasoconstriction do in inflammation? ›

When tissue is first injured, the small blood vessels in the damaged area constrict momentarily, a process called vasoconstriction. Following this transient event, which is believed to be of little importance to the inflammatory response, the blood vessels dilate (vasodilation), increasing blood flow into the area.

Does low oxygen cause vasoconstriction? ›

In systemic arteries hypoxia causes an increased current through ATP-dependent potassium channels and vasodilatation, whereas in the pulmonary arteries hypoxia inhibits potassium current and causes vasoconstriction.

Does increased oxygen cause vasoconstriction? ›

Some of the adverse side effects of oxygen therapy are described below: Oxygen is a blood vessel constrictor or vasoconstrictor. As blood vessels are constricted, circulation in the peripheral blood vessels is significantly reduced, an effect that was previously thought to increase the risk of stroke.

Why does low oxygen cause vasoconstriction? ›

In response to alveolar hypoxia, a mitochondrial sensor dynamically changes reactive oxygen species and redox couples in pulmonary artery smooth muscle cells (PASMC). This inhibits potassium channels, depolarizes PASMC, activates voltage-gated calcium channels, and increases cytosolic calcium, causing vasoconstriction.


1. How blood pressure works - Wilfred Manzano
2. Peripheral Resistance and Blood Flow
(Interactive Biology)
3. Blood Vessels, Part 2: Crash Course Anatomy & Physiology #28
4. Intro to Vasoconstriction & Vasodilation
(The Brainy Heart)
5. 4.5 Cardiovascular Physiology: Control of blood flow
6. Carbon Dioxide & Intracranial Pressure (ICP): Effects of CO2 on blood vessels.
(The Human Body Oversimplified)


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