What is Acute Hypertension?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: C. Wilborn
  • Last Modified Date: 18 November 2019
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Acute hypertension is high blood pressure which begins suddenly. It can cause severe damage to organs such as the kidneys, heart, and brain, and can even lead to death if it is not treated. Preventative steps can be taken to reduce the risk of developing acute hypertension. Once someone develops high blood pressure, there are a number of treatment options available to bring the blood pressure down and manage it in the future.

In primary hypertension, there is nothing associated with the high blood pressure which might explain the sudden elevation. Secondary hypertension is linked with a medical problem, such as kidney failure, emerging as a secondary symptom of an underlying disease. In both cases, acute hypertension is defined by the sudden onset of a blood pressure measurement of over 140/90.

Patients with acute hypertension can have symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, confusion, and chest pains. If the blood pressure is very high, it may cause hemorrhages and can lead to strokes, which will cause neurological symptoms. In a hypertensive emergency, a patient has acute hypertension and is also experiencing failure of organ systems, such as the kidneys.

Immediate treatment for acute hypertension requires lowering the patient's blood pressure to reduce the risk of causing organ damage. This can be done with medications which will bring the patient's blood pressure down. Long term measures for controlling blood pressure and keeping it low can include diet and lifestyle changes as well as medications.


With blood pressure stabilized, a doctor can start to explore some of the causes for the rise in blood pressure. This is an important part of acute hypertension treatment. It may identify underlying medical conditions which need treatment or reveal that a treatment plan for a known condition is no longer effective. If there is an underlying cause for the hypertension, treating it will help with management high blood pressure in the future.

It is not uncommon for there to be no obvious cause of an episode of high blood pressure. There can also be circumstances in a patient's life which lead to a temporary blood pressure spike which may or may not recur again. Monitoring blood pressure in regular physical exams is a good idea, as it establishes a baseline normal blood pressure for the patient. Interviewing patients about changes in lifestyle or diet can help a doctor identify life events which might be contributing to the rise in blood pressure.



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