Hypertensive Crisis: When You Should Call 9-1-1 for High Blood Pressure

Updated:Nov 7,2016

When to call 911 for high blood pressure

Know the two types of HBP crisis to watch for
A hypertensive (high blood pressure) crisis is when blood pressure rises quickly and severely. There are two types of hypertensive crises — both require immediate medical attention. 

Hypertensive Urgency
If you get a blood pressure reading of 180/110 or greater, wait about five minutes and try again. If the second reading is just as high, seek immediate medical help. Early evaluation of organ function is critical to determine an appropriate course of action. Your elevated reading may or may not be accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

  • Severe headache
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nosebleeds
  • Severe anxiety

Treatment of hypertensive urgency may involve adjusting or adding medications, but rarely requires hospitalization.

Hypertensive Emergency
Hypertensive emergencies generally occur at blood pressure levels exceeding 180 systolic OR 120 diastolic, but organ damage can occur at even lower levels in patients whose blood pressure had not been previously high.

The consequences of uncontrolled blood pressure in this range can be severe and include:

AHA recommendation
If you get a blood pressure reading of 180 or higher on top or 110 or higher on the bottom, AND are experiencing signs of possible organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, difficulty speaking, do not wait to see if your pressure comes down on its own. Call 9-1-1.

Be prepared
If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, track your blood pressure and medications. If possible during an emergency, having these logs with you can provide valuable information to the medical team providing treatment.  

This content was last reviewed October 2016.


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