Hypertensive crises are emergencies that require immediate medical attention

February 10, 2011

A hypertensive crisis occurs when blood pressure readings are 180/110 or higher. Unlike hypertension, which might slowly cause blood vessel and organ damage over a period of years, a hypertensive crisis can cause severe organ damage over a short period of time and is considered a medical emergency.

Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis include one or more of the following:

  • High blood pressure: The top number in a blood pressure reading—e.g., 200/140 mmHg—is higher than 180 or the bottom number is over 110.
  • Severe headache
  • Severe anxiety
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nosebleeds

When a crisis turns into a hypertensive emergency, symptoms may include nausea, vomiting, confusion or stupor, seizures, vision loss, chest pain and edema (swelling). If your high blood pressure reading skyrockets or you experience symptoms, do not wait to seek medical attention—call 911 or ask to be driven to the nearest emergency room.

A hypertensive crisis can be treated with a number of different oral or intravenous drugs that lower blood pressure. If left uncontrolled, a hypertensive emergency can result in:

  • Stroke
  • Loss of consciousness
  • Memory loss
  • Heart attack
  • Damage to the eyes and kidneys
  • Blood vessel damage
  • Organ damage caused by inadequate circulation
  • Aortic dissection
  • Angina (chest pain)
  • Fluid backup in the lungs
  • Loss of kidney function


American Heart Association

Cleveland Clinic Foundation

Publication Review By: the Editorial Staff at HealthCommunities.com

Published: 09 Feb 2011

Last Modified: 21 Sep 2015