A hypertensive, or high blood pressure, crisis is when blood pressure rises quickly and severely with readings of 180/120 mm Hg or greater.
The consequences of uncontrolled blood pressure in this range can be severe and include:
- Loss of consciousness
- Memory loss
- Heart attack
- Damage to the eyes and kidneys
- Loss of kidney function
- Aortic dissection
- Angina (unstable chest pain)
- Pulmonary edema (fluid backup in the lungs)
The two types of high blood pressure crises 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.
If your blood pressure is 180/120 or greater, wait about five minutes and try again to take a reading. 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 hypertensive urgency. Your health care professional may just have you adjust or add medications, but this situation rarely requires hospitalization.
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, this would be considered a hypertensive emergency. Do not wait to see whether your pressure comes down on its own. Call 911.
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.