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Symptoms of a high blood pressure crisis

Updated February 18th, 2020

If you’re worried about developing high blood pressure (hypertension) or you’ve already been diagnosed with this condition, you may be wondering what symptoms to watch out for.

“While the symptoms described here may indicate a high blood pressure crisis, it’s also very important to understand that a person’s blood pressure can be dangerously high and yet there are no symptoms at all,” notes retired emergency physician Ben Hippen. “This is why high blood pressure is sometimes called the ‘silent killer’.”

For this reason, it’s important to monitor your blood pressure often. When you’re at your doctor’s office, or even at the pharmacy, take a few minutes to stick your arm in the cuff and get a reading. If you can afford it and will actually use it, a home blood pressure moni-tor is a worthwhile investment.

High blood pressure symptoms

Here are five symptoms that a person with high blood pressure should never ignore. If you know that you have high blood pressure and you develop any of these symptoms, you should seek medical care immediately.

1. Chest pain
Chest pain should always be taken seriously, whether or not you suspect that you have high blood pressure. Any chest pain should be evaluated, whether it’s agonizing and crushing or mild and intermittent. Never assume that chest pain is simply heartburn or indigestion; pain in the chest can be an indication of many different serious medical conditions. If you experi-ence chest pain and nothing serious is found after an emergency department evaluation, your doctor will discuss with you what to do if the discomfort continues.

2. Change in mental status
This can be a difficult symptom to deal with because when we become confused we may not be able to respond with appropriate judgment. It’s important that people who are usually around you be able to recognize the signs of changes in mental status: muddled thinking, changes in speech, unusual behavior and even simply reduced activity. Make sure that family members and caregivers know what to watch for, and know that any sign of quickly changing mental status is an emergency that requires immediate medical response.

3. Severe headache
If you know that you have high blood pressure and you experience a sudden, severe head-ache, seek medical care immediately -- especially if you have no prior history of headaches or if your current headache feels different from those you’ve had in the past. Headaches are complicated; there are numerous possible causes including things like caffeine withdrawal, sinus congestion, and tension and stress. Anyone with no prior history of headaches who suddenly experiences a severe headache should get medical consultation immediately.

4. Changes in vision
High blood pressure can affect the blood vessels leading to and within the eyes. If you have a sudden change in vision — blindness, loss of vision in one eye, changes in part of your field of vision, or perhaps something more subtle — seek medical attention immediately. If a high blood pressure crisis is the reason, doctors will treat you with medicine to reduce your blood pressure and protect your vision.

5. Nausea or vomiting
A high blood pressure crisis can cause nausea and even vomiting. If you suddenly start feel-ing nauseated or start vomiting and there doesn’t seem to be an obvious cause, seek medi-cal attention. Like chest pain and headaches, it’s important not to simply assume that you know what’s causing it. A clinic or emergency department will check your blood pressure and evaluate your symptoms in order to begin any treatment that’s indicated.

A final caution: Stroke symptoms
Since high blood pressure can lead to a stroke, make sure that your family members and caregivers also know the signs of stroke. They should take immediate action if you suddenly experience:

  • Numbness or weakness on one side of the face or body
  • Confusion or difficulty speaking
  • Vision problems
  • Trouble walking, or lack of balance or coordination
  • Severe headache

Stay aware
Some people may have a tendency to ignore or deny the symptoms because they don’t want to go to the doctor or the emergency room, they don’t want to admit the possibility of being ill, or they don’t understand the seriousness.

A key part of healthy aging is communicating health concerns to your doctor or nurse. That includes getting immediate attention to and treatment for potential symptoms of high blood pressure crisis.

Don’t disregard professional medical advice, or delay seeking it, because of what you read here. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional consultation, diagno-sis or treatment; it is provided “as is” without any representations or warranties, express or implied. Always consult a healthcare provider if you have specific questions about any medical matter, and seek professional attention immediately if you think you or someone in your care may be suffering from a healthcare condition.

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