Hypertensive Crisis

Blood Pressure

Jan 16, 2020


High blood pressure has become so common in the United States, most people don’t bat an eyelid when hearing about someone’s diagnosis. After all, it’s a health condition that affects one out of every three adults in the country. Yet, having high blood pressure can be devastating for someone’s health. Uncontrolled, it can result in a long list of health problems — such as heart attack, dementia, or aneurysm, to name a few. Therefore, this diagnosis should be taken seriously, and you — or your diagnosed loved one — should make immediate lifestyle changes to reverse it.

What is a healthy blood pressure level?

Blood pressure (BP) refers to the pressure caused by the blood on the walls of the veins and arteries as it’s pumped throughout the body. A healthy BP is anywhere between 90/60 and 120/80. The number at the top (systolic BP) refers to the pressure against the blood vessel walls during heartbeats. The number at the bottom (diastolic) refers to the pressure between heartbeats.

What is a hypertensive crisis?

If your blood pressure reaches 180/120 or higher, this is known as a hypertensive crisis. This requires emergency medical attention, since blood pressure this high may cause organ damage — and could result in kidney failure, blindness, fluid buildup in the lungs, loss of consciousness, stroke, or heart attack.

Types of Hypertensive Crisis

There are two types of hypertensive crises — and they both require medical attention. Your crisis is determined by whether or not you’re experiencing organ damage.

Hypertensive Urgency

When you have a hypertensive urgency, your blood pressure is significantly spiked, but you haven’t experienced organ damage yet. This is known as a hypertensive urgency. It occurs when your BP has reached 180/120, but you are not experiencing symptoms of a crisis. Check your blood pressure. Wait a few minutes, then check it again. Your doctor will likely administer medication, but hospitalization may not be required.

Hypertensive Emergency

In a hypertensive emergency, your BP will have reached 180/120 or higher, and you’ll also experience chest pain, blurry vision, difficulties speaking, and/or any of the additional symptoms listed below. Don’t wait a few minutes to check your blood pressure again. This is a sign that organ damage is occurring and you should call 911 immediately.

Hypertensive Crisis Symptoms

Other symptoms of a hypertensive crisis include:

When to See a Doctor

A hypersensitive crisis can be life-threatening. Therefore, as soon as you experience symptoms, seek medical attention immediately. Delaying diagnosis and treatment can lead to worsening symptoms and sometimes death.

Hypertensive Crisis Diagnosis and Treatment

Your doctor will measure your blood pressure and ask detailed questions about the symptoms you’re experiencing. If the doctor believes your BP may be causing organ damage, they’ll order blood testing, an echocardiogram, renal ultrasound, eye exam, or imaging tests — such as x-rays, an MRI, or a CT scan — to check for damage to the brain, heart, or lungs.

Initial treatment involves medication to stabilize your blood pressure — administered through an IV for faster results. Once your BP has been lowered, your doctor prescribes oral medications. You’ll also have to regularly monitor your blood pressure as you implement lifestyle changes to prevent future BP spikes. These include eating more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains, limiting salt intake and alcohol consumption, losing weight if overweight, and exercising for a minimum of 30 minutes a day.

Can anxiety cause a hypertensive crisis?

Since anxiety can cause spikes in a person’s blood pressure, it can result in short-term hypertension. There is danger, however, with frequent anxiety episodes that can result in chronic hypertension — as well as becoming dependent on anxiety medications that can also increase your blood pressure. In addition, when a person experiences anxiety, they are more likely to engage in behavior that increases BP — such as overeating, eating unhealthy foods on a regular basis, frequent alcohol consumption, or smoking.

Risk Factors

There are several risk factors for a hypertensive crisis. Some of them include:

  • Having blood pressure of or above 140/90
  • Pregnancy
  • Autoimmune disorders
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Failing to take medications to control high blood pressure
  • Smoking
  • Using drugs

24-Hour Emergency Room Services in Colorado Springs and Texas

If you or a loved one have a medical emergency, we can provide the care you need. If you have questions or need immediate treatment, your nearest Complete Care location is ready to help, no matter the time of day or night. We offer a variety of services to help you and your family in your time of need. No appointments are necessary.

Find the Complete Care location nearest you.