Hypertensive crisis

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Hypertensive crisis, also known as acute severe hypertension, was a term previously used to refer to hypertensive emergencies and hypertensive urgencies.[1][2] The use of the term is no longer recommended as of 2019.[3]

It is any severely elevated blood pressure (equal to or greater than a systolic 160 or diastolic of 110). People with blood pressures in this range may have no symptoms, or report headaches (22% of cases) and dizziness.[4] Other symptoms may include visual deterioration due to retinopathy, breathlessness due to heart failure, or a general feeling of malaise due to kidney failure.[5] Most people with a hypertensive crisis are known to have elevated blood pressure, but additional triggers may have led to a sudden rise.[6]

A hypertensive emergency is diagnosed when there is evidence of direct damage to one or more organs as a result of severely elevated blood pressure greater than 160 systolic or 120 diastolic.[7] This may include hypertensive encephalopathy, caused by brain swelling and dysfunction, and characterized by headaches and an altered level of consciousness (confusion or drowsiness). Retinal papilledema and/or fundal bleeds and exudates are another sign of target organ damage. Chest pain may indicate heart muscle damage (which may progress to myocardial infarction) or sometimes aortic dissection, the tearing of the inner wall of the aorta. Breathlessness, cough, and the coughing up of blood-stained sputum are characteristic signs of pulmonary edema, the swelling of lung tissue due to left ventricular failure an inability of the left ventricle of the heart to adequately pump blood from the lungs into the arterial system.[6] Rapid deterioration of kidney function (acute kidney injury) and microangiopathic hemolytic anemia (destruction of blood cells) may also occur.[6] In these situations, rapid reduction of the blood pressure is mandated to stop ongoing organ damage.[6] In contrast there is no evidence that blood pressure needs to be lowered rapidly in hypertensive urgencies where there is no evidence of target organ damage and over aggressive reduction of blood pressure is not without risks.[5] Use of oral medications to lower the BP gradually is recommended in hypertensive urgencies.[6]

There are several causes including a neuroendocrine tumor called a pheochromocytoma.


  1. Papadopoulos DP, Mourouzis I, Thomopoulos C, Makris T, Papademetriou V (December 2010). "Hypertension crisis". Blood Press. 19 (6): 328–36. doi:10.3109/08037051.2010.488052. PMID 20504242. S2CID 207471870.
  2. Jolly, Hannah; Freel, E Marie; Isles, Chris (19 May 2023). "Management of hypertensive emergencies and urgencies: narrative review". Postgraduate Medical Journal. 99 (1169): 119–126. doi:10.1136/postgradmedj-2021-140899.
  3. van den Born, Bert-Jan H; Lip, Gregory Y H; Brguljan-Hitij, Jana; Cremer, Antoine; Segura, Julian; Morales, Enrique; Mahfoud, Felix; Amraoui, Fouad; Persu, Alexandre; Kahan, Thomas; Agabiti Rosei, Enrico; de Simone, Giovanni; Gosse, Philippe; Williams, Bryan (1 January 2019). [10.1093/ehjcvp/pvy032 "ESC Council on hypertension position document on the management of hypertensive emergencies"]. European Heart Journal - Cardiovascular Pharmacotherapy. 5 (1): 37–46. doi:10.1093/ehjcvp/pvy032. ISSN 2055-6837. {{cite journal}}: Check |url= value (help)
  4. Fisher ND, Williams GH (2005). "Hypertensive vascular disease". In Kasper DL, Braunwald E, Fauci AS, et al. (eds.). Harrison's Principles of Internal Medicine (16th ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill. pp. 1463–81. ISBN 978-0-07-139140-5.
  5. 5.0 5.1 O'Brien, Eoin; Beevers, D. G.; Lip, Gregory Y. H. (2007). ABC of hypertension. London: BMJ Books. ISBN 978-1-4051-3061-5.
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 6.4 Marik PE, Varon J (June 2007). "Hypertensive crises: challenges and management". Chest. 131 (6): 1949–62. doi:10.1378/chest.06-2490. PMID 17565029.
  7. Chobanian, AV; Bakris, GL; Black, HR; Cushman, WC; Green, LA; Izzo JL, Jr; Jones, DW; Materson, BJ; Oparil, S; Wright JT, Jr; Roccella, EJ; National High Blood Pressure Education Program Coordinating Committee (Dec 2003). "Seventh report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure". Hypertension. 42 (6): 1206–52. doi:10.1161/01.hyp.0000107251.49515.c2. PMID 14656957.