When is high blood pressure (hypertension) a medical emergency?

There are times when high blood pressure (hypertension) is considered an emergency and requires urgent medical attention. This can occur if your blood pressure rises quickly and severely.

Seek emergency care if your blood pressure reading is 180/120 or higher AND you have any of the following symptoms, which may be signs of organ damage:

  • Chest pain.
  • Shortness of breath.
  • Numbness or weakness.
  • Change in vision.
  • Difficulty speaking.
  • Severe headache.

When is high blood pressure in a pregnant woman a concern?

Pregnant women, unlike adults who aren’t pregnant, should contact their healthcare provider if their blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. The following symptoms may happen alongside the high blood pressure:

  • Upper abdominal pain.
  • Vision changes.
  • Swelling – especially in the hands and feet.
  • Headaches.

When is high blood pressure a medical emergency for my child?

What counts as normal or abnormal blood pressure in a child is different than an adult’s depending on age, weight, sex and height. However, the blood pressure reading of 180/120 that indicates a medical emergency for adults also means one for a child.

What causes high blood pressure?

Not getting enough exercise, having obesity and diseases such as diabetes make you at-risk for high blood pressure.

What questions might I be asked in the emergency room?

Your healthcare provider will interview you when you enter the emergency room. Do your best to prepare yourself to answer the following questions, and more, that your healthcare provider may ask.

  • What medications are you on?
  • Did you forget your blood pressure medication?
  • What symptoms do you have?
  • How long have you had these symptoms?

If you’re unable to check your blood pressure, but think it might be high, don’t hesitate to call 911 or go to the emergency room.

Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 01/14/2021.

References

  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. . Accessed 1/5/2021.Description of High Blood Pressure (https://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/health-topics/topics/hbp/)
  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration. . Accessed 1/5/2021.High Blood Pressure (Hypertension) (https://www.fda.gov/ForConsumers/ByAudience/ForWomen/ucm118529.htm)
  • American Heart Association. . Accessed 1/5/2021. Hypertensive Crisis: When You Should Call 911 for High Blood Pressure (https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings/hypertensive-crisis-when-you-should-call-911-for-high-blood-pressure)
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. . Accessed 1/5/2021. High Blood Pressure (https://www.cdc.gov/bloodpressure/index.htm)
  • American Academy of Family Physicians. . Accessed 1/5/2021.High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy (https://www.aafp.org/afp/2016/0115/afp20160115p121-s1.pdf)

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