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

A hypertensive (high blood pressure) crisis is when blood pressure rises quickly and severely with readings of 180/120 or greater.  

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

An elevated reading may or may not be accompanied by one or more of the following symptoms:

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

Know the two types of High Blood Pressure (HBP) crisis to watch for

There are two types of hypertensive crises—both require immediate attention as early evaluation of organ function is critical to determine an appropriate course of action.

Hypertensive Urgency

If your blood pressure is 180/120 or greater, wait about five minutes and try again. If the second reading is just as high and you are not experiencing any other associated symptoms of target organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, or difficulty speaking, this would be considered a hypertensive urgency. Your healthcare provider may just have you adjust or add medications, but rarely requires hospitalization.

Hypertensive Emergency

If your blood pressure reading is 180/120 or greater and you are experiencing any other associated symptoms of target organ damage such as chest pain, shortness of breath, back pain, numbness/weakness, change in vision, or difficulty speaking then this would be considered a hypertensive emergency. 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.