What is Hypertensive Crisis?

What is Hypertensive Crisis

Hypertension is another name for high blood pressure. Many factors can contribute to developing hypertension, including being overweight or obese, smoking, being sedentary, not eating a healthy diet, and having an underlying condition like cardiovascular disease, kidney disease, or diabetes. 

The term hypertensive crisis refers to a sudden increase in blood pressure severe enough to cause organ damage or other medical issues and can be fatal. 

There are two levels of hypertensive crisis: hypertensive emergency and hypertensive urgency. How are hypertensive emergency and urgency defined? Descriptions of the two conditions are below.

Hypertensive Emergency

In a hypertensive emergency, the person’s blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or higher, and they’re experiencing some or all these symptoms:

  • Severe headache
  • Changes in vision such as blurring
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chest pain
  • Dizziness
  • Nosebleed
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Unresponsiveness
  • Seizures
  • Confusion
  • Severe anxiety

A hypertensive emergency is a life-threatening event that requires immediate medical attention. It can trigger other medical emergencies, including:

  • Stroke
  • Heart attack
  • Aneurysm (aortic dissection)
  • Eclampsia (if pregnant)
  • Fluid in the lungs
  • Heart failure
  • Unstable angina

Fortunately, hypertensive emergencies are rare. But if you or someone with you experiences this condition, you must take prompt action. 

Treatment for a hypertensive emergency involves lowering your blood pressure and may require a hospital stay to monitor your organs for damage. 

Hypertensive Urgency

Hypertension urgency is defined as having a blood pressure of 180/120 mm Hg or higher, which is the same as a hypertensive emergency but without any of the symptoms listed above. As the name suggests, it’s a condition for which a person should get urgent medical attention.  

What is the Difference Between Hypertensive Urgency and Hypertensive Emergency?

The distinguishing factor between hypertensive emergency and hypertensive urgency is the presence or absence of symptoms, respectively. 

Some people will experience a sudden spike in blood pressure but have no symptoms and can bring their blood pressure back under control with medication within a few hours. Others with a similar blood pressure reading will experience one or more symptoms and need emergency medical care. 

What can cause a sudden hypertensive crisis? Most often, this type of event is associated with:

  • Not taking blood pressure medication as prescribed
  • Taking multiple medications that combine to increase blood pressure significantly 
  • Using cocaine, amphetamines, or other illegal drugs 
  • Having a stroke, heart attack, or another serious cardiovascular event
  • Having heart or kidney failure

Learn More About Hypertensive Crisis Classification from Baptist Health

If you experience a sudden, significant rise in blood pressure while at home but no associated symptoms, relax for a few minutes and then retake your blood pressure. If it’s still unusually high, you should visit an urgent care clinic, like those operated by Baptist Health. 

If your blood pressure rises rapidly and you experience symptoms, you should seek emergency care

Taking prompt action when you notice that your blood pressure is abnormally high can minimize or prevent organ damage and lower your risk of experiencing a related medical issue like a stroke or heart attack.