Malignant Hypertension – When to Go to the ER
It’s Malignant Hypertension Awareness & Training Month. At Altus Emergency Centers, we want to take this opportunity to educate our communities of this potentially fatal condition.
What is Malignant Hypertension?
In simple terms, malignant hypertension is extremely high blood pressure (180/120 or higher) that comes suddenly. It can cause severe damage to internal organs such as the kidneys, blood vessels, and heart. Malignant hypertension is also known as a hypertension crisis or emergency.
Because of the high risk for organ damage, malignant hypertension is considered a medical emergency. Like with heart attacks and stroke, the sooner you get to the ER and receive treatment, the better the chances of survival.
What Are the Causes of Hypertension Emergency?
There are many contributing factors to a hypertension emergency, but some groups have a higher risk factor.
Malignant hypertension typically affects people who have a history of chronic high blood pressure. It can happen when a hypertensive patient discontinues their medication or misses a dose.
Other risk groups include smokers and African American males.
Additionally, some medical conditions are associated with an increased risk for hypertensive emergencies, these include:
- Kidney failure or kidney disorders
- A narrowing of the aorta
- Use of illegal drugs such as cocaine and amphetamines
- The use of oral contraceptives
- Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (toxemia) or preeclampsia
- Spinal cord injuries that lead parts of the nervous system to become overactive
- Certain autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus
Warning Signs of Malignant Hypertension
One of the most significant challenges with high blood pressure is that most patients don’t experience any symptoms. Because of this, many patients don’t know they are sick until the disease has progressed.
Luckily, malignant hypertension does have distinct warning signs that can let someone know they are in trouble.
The most common symptoms of a hypertension emergency include:
- Chest pain
- Sudden vision problems, including blurred vision
- Shortness of breath
- Changes in mental status, including confusion, anxiety, inability to concentrate, and sleeplessness
- Weakness or numbness in the arms, face, or legs
- Nausea or vomiting
- Not urinating enough
Complications of Malignant Hypertension
Malignant hypertension is a severe condition that can be life-threatening. As such, hypertension crises are time-sensitive emergencies. The longer the situation goes untreated, the more likely it becomes for the patient to suffer long-term organ damage or even death.
A severe hypertension crisis can lead to any of these dire complications:
- Brain damage caused by insufficient blood reaching the brain, stroke, or seizures
- Kidney failure
- Heart damage, including angina, heart attack, and arrhythmia
- Pulmonary edema (fluid in the lungs)
- Vision damage, including permanent blindness
How to Prevent Hypertension Emergencies
Hypertension emergencies can happen to anyone, including children. However, there are ways to prevent it.
- Regularly monitor your blood pressure, especially if you know you have high blood pressure
- Take your medication as prescribed by your doctor
- Quit smoking
- Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt and saturated fats
- Maintain a healthy weight
When to Go to The ER
It’s vital for anyone who experiences any of the above symptoms to seek immediate emergency medical attention. Individuals with a history of high blood pressure need to be especially vigilant.
If you suspect you may be having a malignant hypertension episode, don’t delay call 911 or have someone drive you to the nearest Altus Emergency Center. Acting fast could save your life!