Malignant hypertension occurs when a sudden spike in blood pressure puts you at risk for organ damage. It often happens in people with a history of high blood pressure. But it can also occur in people with normal blood pressure. The condition is a medical emergency that requires immediate care.
This condition occurs when there is a sudden rise in blood pressure. It typically happens in people who already have high blood pressure (hypertension). But other medical conditions, like a kidney injury or an endocrine disorder, can cause it as well.
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Malignant hypertension is also known as a hypertensive crisis. There are two types:
No. These conditions can happen in people who don't have high blood pressure. Healthcare providers make the diagnosis based on a significant increase from your normal blood pressure.
Uncontrolled high blood pressure is one of the main causes of malignant hypertension.
Other causes include:
Symptoms depend on which organs are affected. You may experience:
Healthcare providers perform a comprehensive assessment to determine whether there is hypertensive urgency or an emergency.
The types of tests you have depends on your symptoms and may include:
This form of malignant hypertension requires care that starts in an emergency room. Therapy includes special medications to lower your blood pressure. You receive these drugs through a vein (intravenously).
This phase of treatment may last up to two days. You’ll need to stay in the hospital until your blood pressure reaches a safe range. Once your blood pressure is under control, you continue taking blood pressure medications by mouth.
Hypertensive urgency does not need inpatient care or intravenous blood pressure medications. Instead, you take blood pressure medications by mouth. These drugs gradually decrease blood pressure until it reaches a safe range.
People with hypertensive urgency have one or more risk factors that increase the likelihood of future organ damage.
Both types of malignant hypertension need close monitoring from your healthcare provider. Within a few days, you’ll need a follow-up appointment. This visit is an opportunity to make sure your blood pressure remains in control. Your healthcare provider may adjust medications to keep your care on the right track.
There are steps you can take to prevent malignant hypertension, including:
The short-term outlook is generally good for people who receive timely care. Emergency treatments are often successful. But you may still be at risk for complications. Researchers are exploring the long-term health consequences of malignant hypertension.
Sudden spikes in blood pressure can cause many severe health issues, including:
Even with successful treatment, it’s possible to experience another hypertensive emergency. You can lower your risk by living a healthy lifestyle, including:
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Malignant hypertension happens when there’s a sudden rise in blood pressure. In some people, it occurs with signs of organ damage. Other people do not experience organ damage but face a high risk of experiencing it. Treatment includes medications to bring your blood pressure back to a safe range. After treatment, it’s important to follow up with your healthcare provider and take good care of yourself. Doing so can help you avoid future episodes or delayed organ damage.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 12/23/2021.
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