What is a hypertensive emergency?

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A healthy blood pressure usually does not exceed 120/80.  Individuals whose blood pressure is > 140/90 consistently, will most likely be diagnosed with and treated for high blood pressure, also known as hypertension.  Sometimes, a small number of those with hypertension will experience a dramatic spike in their blood pressure reading in which the upper number (systolic pressure) exceeds 180, and/or the bottom number (diastolic pressure) exceeds 110. The person may experience shortness of breath, headache, blurred vision, confusion.  This condition calls for medical treatment right away. If untreated, the person can experience complications affecting the heart, blood vessels, other organs, and the brain, possibly triggering a stroke or seizures. For this reason, a hypertensive crisis is considered a medical emergency.    


Dr. Elif E. Oker, MD
Medical Toxicology

A hypertensive emergency occurs when a person's blood pressure becomes high enough to cause damage to vital organs such as the brain, heart and kidneys. Examples of organ damage due to severely elevated blood pressure include heart attack, stroke and kidney failure.

If you have high blood pressure accompanied with chest pain, dizziness, confusion, severe headache or vision changes, be sure to seek immediate medical care.

If your blood pressure is too high you might be diagnosed with a hypertensive emergency. That means your systolic blood pressure is above 180/120 mm Hg and that your vital organs are in danger of severe damage. Two examples of hypertensive emergencies are malignant hypertension and hypertensive encephalopathy. Both of these typically require your blood pressure to be lowered with in-patient treatment. This is usually achieved by administering drugs like nitroprusside or labetalol intravenously.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.