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What is a high blood pressure emergency? — A high blood pressure emergency is a serious condition that can happen when a person's blood pressure gets much higher than normal. When a person's blood pressure gets very high, it can lead to problems in 1 or more of the following organs:
●Eyes – Problems can include bleeding in the back of the eye, or swelling of the nerve that runs from the eye to the brain.
●Brain – Problems can include swelling or bleeding in the brain, or a stroke. A stroke is when a part of the brain is damaged because of a problem with blood flow.
●Kidneys – Very high blood pressure can lead to kidney failure, which is when the kidneys stop working.
●Heart – Heart problems can include a heart attack, heart failure, or damage to a major blood vessel.
Without treatment right away, these problems can lead to death.
When your doctor or nurse tells you your blood pressure, they say 2 numbers. For example, your doctor might say that your blood pressure is "140 over 90." When people have a high blood pressure emergency, their blood pressure is usually "180 over 120" or higher.
Other terms doctors might use for a high blood pressure emergency are "hypertensive emergency" or "malignant hypertension."
Sometimes, a person's blood pressure is much higher than normal, but it hasn't damaged any organs. Doctors call this "hypertensive urgency." Hypertensive urgency is not usually treated the same as a high blood pressure emergency.
What are the symptoms of a high blood pressure emergency? — The symptoms depend on the organ or organs affected. They can include:
●Blurry vision or other vision changes
●Nausea or vomiting
●Passing out or seizures – Seizures are waves of abnormal electrical activity in the brain that can make people move or behave strangely.
●Weakness or numbness on 1 side of the body, or in 1 arm or leg
●Pain in the upper back or between the shoulders
●Brown or bloody urine
●Pain in the lower back or 1 the side of the body
Will I need tests? — Yes. Your doctor or nurse will ask about your symptoms, do an exam, and check your blood pressure. They might use a special light to look in the back of your eyes.
Your doctor will also do tests to check how serious your condition is. Tests can include:
●CT scan or other imaging test of your brain – Imaging tests create pictures of the inside of the body.
●CT scan or other imaging test of your chest
●Electrocardiogram ("ECG") – This test measures the electrical activity in your heart (figure 1).
How is a high blood pressure emergency treated? — A high blood pressure emergency is treated in the hospital. Your doctor will give you medicines to lower your blood pressure quickly. These medicines are usually given through a thin tube that goes into your vein, called an "IV."
Your doctor will also treat any problems caused by your very high blood pressure, if possible.
People who have a high blood pressure emergency usually need long-term treatment to keep their blood pressure under control. This usually includes:
●Following a low-salt diet that includes a lot of fruits and vegetables
●Losing weight (if you are overweight)
●Getting regular exercise
When should I call the doctor? — Call your doctor or nurse right away if you have the symptoms listed above, especially if you know that you have high blood pressure.
Some people check their blood pressure at home using a home blood pressure meter. If you do this, call your doctor if you have 2 or more readings higher than 180 over 120. You should call even if you don't have any other symptoms.
Patient education: High blood pressure in adults (The Basics)
Patient education: Medicines for high blood pressure (The Basics)
Patient education: Stroke (The Basics)
Patient education: Seizures (The Basics)
Patient education: Acute kidney injury (The Basics)
Patient education: Heart attack (The Basics)
Patient education: Heart failure (The Basics)
Patient education: ECG and stress test (The Basics)
Patient education: Low-sodium diet (The Basics)
Patient education: Exercise and movement (The Basics)
Patient education: DASH diet (The Basics)
Patient education: Blood pressure measurement (The Basics)
Patient education: High blood pressure in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: High blood pressure treatment in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: High blood pressure, diet, and weight (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Stroke symptoms and diagnosis (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Seizures in adults (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Heart attack (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Heart failure (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Low-sodium diet (Beyond the Basics)
Patient education: Exercise (Beyond the Basics)
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