Health Care

How to Recognize and Respond to a High Blood Pressure Emergency

A Patient Has His Blood Pressure Taken By a Nurse in a Practice.

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A high blood pressure emergency, also called a hypertensive crisis, is a health crisis characterized by a sudden and severe elevation in blood pressure that requires immediate medical intervention.

Such a sudden ascent in blood pressure is a critical situation that can lead to serious health complications such as organ damage, stroke and heart attack. Understanding the symptoms, causes and what to do during a high blood pressure emergency is key when every second counts.

That’s why we’re here with valuable information from one of our heart experts to help you recognize symptoms and respond appropriately should a high blood pressure emergency impact you or someone you love. We want to help keep your heart healthy and beating strong — so you can follow it wherever it goes.

What Is a High Blood Pressure Emergency?

“A high blood pressure emergency is a severe elevation in blood pressure, usually above 180/110 mmHg, that can be accompanied by organ damage,” says Binu Jacob, MD, a cardiovascular disease specialist at AdventHealth.

Here are some key points to keep in mind:

Organ Damage

Hypertensive emergencies can cause damage to vital organs such as the brain, heart, kidneys or lungs. Common complications include stroke, heart attack, kidney failure, pulmonary edema or aortic dissection.

Immediate Medical Attention

Hypertensive emergencies require immediate medical intervention to stabilize blood pressure and prevent further organ damage. Get to your closest emergency room by calling 911 or having someone drive you; don’t try to drive yourself.

Recognizing the Symptoms of a High Blood Pressure Emergency

“Identifying the symptoms of a hypertensive crisis is crucial so you can get prompt medical care,” shares Dr. Jacob. “A high blood pressure emergency typically involves head and chest pain or severe anxiety.”

Watch for the following signs:

Severe Headache

A sudden, severe headache may be a warning sign of a hypertensive emergency. Headaches accompanied by confusion, blurred vision or neurological symptoms require immediate attention.

Chest Pain or Shortness of Breath

Chest pain, tightness or difficulty breathing can indicate cardiac involvement during a high blood pressure emergency. Seek medical help immediately if these symptoms occur.

Severe Anxiety or Restlessness

Unexplained extreme anxiety or restlessness, often associated with other symptoms, could indicate a high blood pressure emergency.

The following list of symptoms might indicate organ damage along with a high blood pressure emergency:

  • Change in vision
  • Chest pain or tightness
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Numbness
  • Severe, sudden headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness

Actions to Take During a Hypertensive Emergency

If you suspect a crisis with your blood pressure levels, it’s crucial to act quickly. Follow these steps:

Call Emergency Services

Dial 911 or seek medical attention immediately. Explain the situation to the best of your ability, including the person's high blood pressure reading, symptoms and onset time. Note that if you’re with someone with these symptoms, you need to help them and vice versa. Let others help you if you’re experiencing a blood pressure crisis.

Supportive Measures

While waiting for medical help to arrive, ensure the patient is in a comfortable position, preferably sitting upright. Offer reassurance and encourage deep breathing to help manage anxiety.

Don’t Delay Seeking Care

High blood pressure emergencies require urgent medical treatment, even if blood pressure readings decrease or symptoms start to improve. Don’t try to wait it out to see if it gets better.

Expert Care From the Heart at AdventHealth

If you have high blood pressure concerns or need expert management and guidance, our heart experts are here to help. Our team of cardiac specialists offers comprehensive care and support for your heart health.

Visit our website to learn more about our cardiology services. You deserve to feel whole.

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