What is Dangerously High Blood Pressure?

A. Pasbjerg

Dangerously high blood pressure, also known as malignant hypertension, is a fairly rare condition where blood pressure levels rapidly elevate to the point where an affected person is at serious risk for internal organ damage or even death. If not treated promptly, it can cause a variety of symptoms, ranging from mild issues such as headache, nausea, and shortness of breath, to much more severe ones like seizures, coma, or heart attack. The causes of this condition are not completely understood, and though it can affect anyone, certain groups are at higher risk. Treatment typically involves hospitalization to get pressure levels under control, with continued use of medication afterward to keep them from becoming too high again.

Dangerously high blood pressure is a systolic reading above 170 or 180, or a diastolic reading higher than 100 or 110.
Dangerously high blood pressure is a systolic reading above 170 or 180, or a diastolic reading higher than 100 or 110.

When a person develops dangerously high blood pressure, one or both of his or her measurements for blood pressure — systolic or diastolic — becomes excessively high. Though some medical professionals may have slightly different views on what qualifies, typically a systolic over 170 or 180 or a diastolic over 100 or 110 fall in this range. For some, the number goes much higher, sometimes over 200/140.

The brachial artery is commonly used to take blood pressure measurements.
The brachial artery is commonly used to take blood pressure measurements.

While those with mild or moderate high blood pressure may not notice symptoms, dangerously high levels can often be accompanied by other physical effects. Patients may experience coughing and shortness of breath, chest pain, and nausea or vomiting. They may get headaches, blurred vision, or feel weakness or numbness in their bodies. In severe cases or if the condition is not treated quickly, they can suffer from seizures or go into a coma, have a heart attack or stroke, or suffer from kidney failure.

A person with malignant hypertension is at serious risk for internal organ damage or even death.
A person with malignant hypertension is at serious risk for internal organ damage or even death.

Only about 1% of patients develop malignant hypertension, but certain patients seem to be at higher risk than others. Young adults, particularly those of African heritage, are often affected. Pregnant women with certain complications can also be at risk, as can those with certain kidney disorders.

Untreated high blood pressure can lead to severe health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.
Untreated high blood pressure can lead to severe health issues, such as cardiovascular disease and stroke.

If diagnosed with dangerously high blood pressure, a patient will typically be hospitalized immediately to bring the condition under control. The patient will also likely be assessed for any damage that may have occurred to his or her internal organs, particularly the kidneys, heart, and brain. Quick treatment can help minimize damage, but some patients may have complications if the problem has been going on for a period of time. After leaving the hospital, most patients will need to stay on medication to control their blood pressure.

There are many medications designed to lower blood pressure.
There are many medications designed to lower blood pressure.
In severe cases, dangerously high blood pressure can lead to coma.
In severe cases, dangerously high blood pressure can lead to coma.
Exercising regularly may help treat blood pressure issues.
Exercising regularly may help treat blood pressure issues.
Pregnant women with certain complications may be at risk for dangerously high blood pressure.
Pregnant women with certain complications may be at risk for dangerously high blood pressure.

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Discussion Comments

anon997143

Why would bp be over 200 but second figure is only around 80?

anon991237

Make sure your belt isn't too tight.

StarJo

My mother's high blood pressure treatment is a pill called clonidine. It's also used to treat anxiety, which might even be contributing to her blood pressure increase.

Her doctor told her that any time her pressure rises to 160 or above, she needs to take one of these pills. It will get her pressure back down to normal, and it will also make her relaxed and sleepy, so if she is anxious, she will soon be relieved of that.

kylee07drg

I knew that the reason for my high blood pressure was the medication I was taking. It was the only change I'd made in my life at that time, and my pressure rose dramatically.

Though it didn't reach the dangerous level of 170, it was near 150 over 100. I felt as if something were wrong. It made me instantly anxious, before I even checked my pressure.

I also started shaking. I couldn't hold my hands still, and I felt pressure in my chest.

The day after I stopped taking the medicine, my pressure went down to 130 over 90. A couple of days later, it was about 120 over 80, which is great.

Kristee

@orangey03 – Having a fast heartbeat is not a sign that you will have a high blood pressure reading. It is strange, though, and if I were you, I'd want to see a doctor about that.

When I exercise, my heart rate goes way up, but my blood pressure doesn't. In fact, exercise makes your blood pressure go down.

So, the two are not related, as far as I know. Otherwise, I'd worry every time that my heart sped up.

orangey03

Is a rapid heart rate one of the signs of high blood pressure? Sometimes, my heart speeds up for no reason. I haven't had my blood pressure checked this year, and I'm wondering if my increased heartbeat is a sign that I should get it checked out.

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