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These Symptoms of High Blood Pressure Can Land You in the Hospital, Warn Doctors

Learn the signs of high blood pressure and how to help prevent it. 
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

High blood pressure is a major health issue that most people don't realize they have because there's often no warning signs, but if left untreated the condition can cause serious complications like heart disease, stroke and more. The Mayo Clinic says, "High blood pressure is a common condition that affects the body's arteries. It's also called hypertension. If you have high blood pressure, the force of the blood pushing against the artery walls is consistently too high. The heart has to work harder to pump blood. Blood pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). In general, hypertension is a blood pressure reading of 130/80 mm Hg or higher."

Going in for regular doctor visits is always recommended because the first thing a nurse will do is check your blood pressure.  Dr. Jagdish Khubchandani, MBBS, Ph.D., a professor of public health at New Mexico State University tells us, " The majority of American adults have high blood pressure. However, the majority may not know about it or be able to control their blood pressure. Unfortunately, high blood pressure has adverse effects on our body organs and systems in both the short term and in the long run. As a result, for more than half a million deaths in the U.S. hypertension is a direct or contributing cause. According to some latest studies, high blood pressure awareness and treatment have been declining and there is an urgent need to emphasize on increasing awareness."

While it's true that there's usually no signs of high blood pressure, Dr. Khubchandani explains, "If high blood pressure is serious and severe, some symptoms may appear in individuals. However, one should not wait for or anticipate these symptoms as they are a part of a hypertensive crisis (a medical emergency) that may be followed by stroke, heart attack, acute kidney failure, or other severe outcomes. So, regular check-ups and maintenance are key." Read on—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.


​​Chest Pain

Woman lying in bed at home holding a hand to her chest by a sharp pain

Dr. Khubchandani says, "Chest pain is a symptom that is likely to occur with or without other symptoms during hypertensive crisis. However, in most people with hypertension, this is not a commonly observed symptom during routine times. Chest pain is more likely with extremely high blood pressures especially when a person may be having a heart attack."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states, "High blood pressure can damage your arteries by making them less elastic, which decreases the flow of blood and oxygen to your heart and leads to heart disease. In addition, decreased blood flow to the heart can cause: 

–Chest pain, also called angina.

–Heart attack, which happens when the blood supply to your heart is blocked and heart muscle begins to die without enough oxygen. The longer the blood flow is blocked, the greater the damage to the heart.

–Heart failure, a condition that means your heart can't pump enough blood and oxygen to your other organs."


Breathing Difficulty

Woman having bad ache and pain heart attack health problem.

"There are multiple explanations for chest pain," Dr. Khubchandani emphasizes.

"For example, high blood pressure can affect blood vessels by making them less flexible leading to reduced blood flow to the heart causing chest pain. During times of hypertensive crisis, this stress may increase leading to gasping for air and oxygen. Similarly, during hypertensive urgencies, people may end up having a heart attack which may lead to increased oxygen demand and breathing difficulty."

If you're experiencing shortness of breath, you could have a specific kind of high blood pressure. The Mayo Clinic says, "Pulmonary hypertension is a type of high blood pressure that affects the arteries in the lungs and the right side of the heart. In one form of pulmonary hypertension, called pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), blood vessels in the lungs are narrowed, blocked or destroyed. The damage slows blood flow through the lungs, and blood pressure in the lung arteries rises. The heart must work harder to pump blood through the lungs. The extra effort eventually causes the heart muscle to become weak and fail. In some people, pulmonary hypertension slowly gets worse and can be life-threatening." 



man with headache holding water

According to Dr. Khubchandani, "Headaches can occur due to very high blood pressures that are a part of hypertensive crises and should be considered a medical emergency. When a hypertensive crisis or extreme high blood pressure occurs, it can cause excess pressure on the brain, often leading to blood leaking from the blood vessels in the brain. Such headaches tend to be pulsatile in nature and may get worse with stressful activities."

Headaches can happen usually in severe cases of high blood pressure and the 

American Heart Association says, "The best evidence indicates that high blood pressure does not cause headaches or nosebleeds, except in the case of hypertensive crisis, a medical emergency when blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or higher. If your blood pressure is unusually high AND you have headache or nosebleed and are feeling unwell, wait five minutes and retest. If your reading remains at 180/120 mm Hg or higher, call 911. If you are experiencing severe headaches or nosebleeds and are otherwise unwell, contact your doctor as they could be symptoms of other health conditions."


Confusion and Dizziness

Mature woman takes off her glasses and massages eyes.

According to Dr. Khubchandani, "Confusion, dizziness, vertigo, seizures- similar to headaches, the pressure on the brain and the abnormal flow of blood to the brain may lead to brain related symptoms during hypertensive crises or when blood pressure is poorly controlled. Some people may be actually having a stroke or hemorrhage in the brain due to hypertension where these symptoms may become more prominent and keep worsening."

The National Institute on Aging states, " There's a saying, "What's good for your heart is good for your brain." Evidence supports preventing or controlling cardiovascular conditions such as high blood pressure to protect brain health as adults grow into old age…How blood pressure affects cognition—the ability to think, remember, and reason—is less well understood. Observational studies show that having high blood pressure in midlife—the 40s to early 60s—increases the risk of cognitive decline later in life." 


Vision or Speech Problems


Dr. Khubchandani shares, "While many of these symptoms are not well understood and the reasons behind such symptoms need further exploration, some suggest that the mechanical stress on blood vessel walls likely lead to pressure or damage of blood vessels and nerves. As a result, individuals may have difficulty speaking or may have vision abnormalities during a hypertensive emergency. These symptoms also get confusing as many people with high blood pressure also have other diseases that could affect body function (e.g., people may also have diabetes with hypertension and diabetes also has a tendency to affect vision. Diabetic crisis may also show all of the symptoms).

High blood pressure can cause vision changes and the American Heart Association says, "Your eyes contain many tiny blood vessels. When subjected to the long-term effects of high blood pressure, the following conditions can develop: Blood vessel damage (retinopathy), A lack of blood flow to the retina leads to blurred vision or the complete loss of sight…In addition to threatening the anatomy of the eye, high blood pressure can also cause a stroke, which can impair the optic nerve or damage the area of the brain responsible for processing images."


Healthy Lifestyle Choices Make a Difference

Pharmacist checking blood pressure of customer

Dr. Khubchandani explains, "Unfortunately, most of these symptoms are non-specific, inconsistent, and inconclusive. The only way to know that there is a hypertensive crisis or high blood pressure is by a check for blood pressure. Some of these symptoms may or may not occur in times of hypertensive crisis or with severe high blood pressure. Even if they occur, one cannot be sure that they are exclusively due to high blood pressure. So, keeping aware of blood pressure levels and getting a diagnosis are key. 

In addition, healthy lifestyle measures and medications as prescribed should be carefully followed.  These lifestyle measures include increasing physical activity, eating less salt and more fruits and vegetables, managing stress and body weight, maintaining sleep hygiene and daily routines,  and avoiding alcohol, tobacco, or drug use. Other inconsistent, inconclusive, and nonspecific symptoms that may occur during a hypertensive crises or infrequently with hypertension are fatigue, tiredness, vision problems, anxiety, body pain, nausea, vomiting, nosebleeds, just to name a few."

Heather Newgen
Heather Newgen has two decades of experience reporting and writing about health, fitness, entertainment and travel. Heather currently freelances for several publications. Read more about Heather