What is a Hypertensive Crisis?

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  • Written By: wiseGEEK Writer
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 03 November 2019
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A hypertensive crisis is an exceptionally serious condition that may occur if people already have high blood pressure or hypertension. In all, the condition only affects about a single percent of those with high blood pressure or who have never been diagnosed with it. Yet given its potential for severity, it needs to be managed in an emergency room right away. Essentially in this condition, which is classed as either urgent or emergency, blood pressure is very high, and in worst case scenarios, it may result in stroke or damaged organs.

Any time that blood pressure exceeds 180/110, hypertensive crisis must be considered. People with this high a number could also have symptoms like a severe headache or difficulty breathing. These symptoms alone aren’t enough to tell the difference between an urgent and emergency hypertensive crisis, but people with these symptoms are urged to proceed immediately to an emergency room. There, doctors can take blood tests, perform an examination, and determine what criteria the hypertensive crisis fits.

There are additional symptoms associated with the emergency hypertensive crisis that doctors may note upon exam. People can have had a heart attack or be suffering from brain injury due to bleeding or burst aneurysms. The heart may be failing, the brain may be swollen, or lungs can be flooded with fluid. Seizures are possible and people may have altered behavior or mood, or be in comas.


If doctors consider this condition as urgent, they will usually give blood pressure medication by intravenous drip or injection and watch the patient for several hours to make certain blood pressure levels are coming down sufficiently. Should a patient respond well to medication, doctors will probably also arrange for patients to have follow-up with family doctors or others to better control hypertension in the future.

When an emergency hypertensive crisis occurs, treatment needed can be much more significant. In addition to lowering blood pressure with medication, doctors must determine where or if organ damage has occurred. The treatments for this could be exceptionally varied, and a patient might require surgery on one or more organs, once stabilized. When the hypertensive crisis is classed at emergency level, it is usually extremely serious and patients may need significant recovery time in the hospital.

It’s important to note that many of these urgent and emergency crises are avoidable. The emergency type is especially prone to occur in people who aren’t regularly taking their medicine or keeping in touch with doctors. The urgent type could be more likely in those with undiagnosed high blood pressure. This suggests that compliance with treatment and regular physical exams could reduce incidence of hypertensive crisis, making it less likely that these will occur and pose such risk to life.



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