What Are the Signs and Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?

chest pain

Story at-a-glance -

  • High blood pressure's symptomless aspect makes it a very dangerous illness, which is why it’s also known as “the silent killer”
  • The best way to prevent life-threatening complications is by catching and controlling high blood pressure before it becomes worse

One of the most common myths about high blood pressure is that it causes symptoms, such as nervousness, sweating, difficulty sleeping and facial flushing. However, none of these symptoms really occur due to hypertension because, most of the time, high blood pressure doesn’t give out any warning signs.1

Its symptomless aspect makes it a very dangerous illness, which is why it’s also known as “the silent killer.”2 You can have high blood pressure for years without even knowing it. If left unchecked, it will slowly damage your arteries over time and put you at risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, kidney disease or other organ failure.3

This is why skipping regular blood pressure checkups and waiting for a conclusive set of warning signs before you address hypertension can be life-threatening.

Warning Signs Are Often Related to Hypertensive Crisis

Uncontrolled high blood pressure may progressively worsen and lead to hypertensive crisis.4 This is a condition wherein the blood pressure suddenly increases to 180/120 mmHg or higher. When the blood pressure is this high, your heart may not be able to pump blood efficiently to your organs, ultimately leading to organ damage.5 In this case, you may experience signs and symptoms, including:6,7,8

Severe chest pain

Severe headache

Nosebleed

Shortness of breath

Severe anxiety

Nausea

Fatigue

Blurry vision

Palpitation

Seek immediate medical attention if you experience any of the symptoms mentioned above, along with a blood pressure reading of 180/120 mmHg or higher. When left untreated, hypertensive crisis may lead to severe complications, such as changes in mental status, heart attack or heart failure, pulmonary edema, brain swelling and a tear in the heart’s main artery.9

Does High Blood Pressure Affect Men and Women Differently?

Another common misconception about high blood pressure is that it rarely affects women. However, women sometimes are at higher risk than men for high blood pressure if they are pregnant or over age 65.10 In fact, studies that are nearly 20 years old show that both men and women are at risk of developing this condition — it just depends on their age and physical condition.11

For example, through early middle age, men are more likely to develop high blood pressure than women, but then, as mentioned, women catch up in risk by the age of 65 and above.12 Use of oral contraceptives, pregnancy and menopause may also increase a woman’s risk of having high blood pressure.13 Keep in mind, though, that while the level of risk for developing high blood pressure may vary among men and women, the symptoms of hypertensive crisis are still the same for both genders.

Monitoring Your Blood Pressure Is the Best Way to Tell if You Have Hypertension

Don’t wait for the symptoms of hypertensive crisis to occur before you start tracking your blood pressure levels. The best way to prevent life-threatening complications is by catching and controlling high blood pressure before it becomes worse. With that in mind, schedule an appointment with your physician to get your blood pressure measured.

Blood pressure reading is usually taken using a sphygmomanometer, a device with an inflatable cuff that’s place around the upper arm. The cuff can be inflated manually or electronically. Once inflated, it briefly stops the blood flow by compressing the branchial artery. The air in the cuff is then released, while a person (usually a healthcare provider) listens to your heartbeat using a stethoscope or monitors an electronic reading.

A person with normal blood pressure should screen their blood pressure at least once every two years. Meanwhile, people with elevated blood pressure levels should measure their blood pressure routinely at home, in addition to regular healthcare visits.14

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