What Is Considered Dangerously High Blood Pressure?

By Staff WriterLast Updated May 27, 2020 7:23:32 PM ET
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Blood flows through your arteries, supplying your body's organs with the oxygen and nutrients they need to function properly. The force of your blood against the walls of your arteries is called your blood pressure. Too much pressure can increase your risk of stroke, heart attack, and other health concerns.

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When your blood pressure dangerously high, above 180/120, you could be experiencing a hypertensive crisis and might need emergency treatment. There is a chance that dangerously high blood pressure has caused damage to your body's organs.

What Is Normal Blood Pressure?

Two numbers are used to measure your blood pressure. The top number on a blood pressure reading measures your systolic pressure, or the amount of force your blood puts on the walls of your arteries when your heart beats. The bottom number measures diastolic pressure, which is the amount of force your blood puts on the walls of your arteries between heartbeats.

If you have what's considered "normal" blood pressure, your systolic pressure is 120 or lower. Your diastolic pressure is less than 80. 

What Causes High Blood Pressure?

A blood pressure reading over 120/80 but lower than 130/80 is considered elevated, while a reading above 130/80 is considered high. If your blood pressure reaches 180/120, you are experiencing what's called a hypertensive crisis.

Several things can lead to an elevated or high blood pressure, including being overweight, smoking, and not getting enough exercise. Some people have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure because of their age, family history, or ethnicity.

What Are the Risks of Dangerously High Blood Pressure?

If your blood pressure reaches dangerously high levels (over 180/120), there is the risk that it will cause damage to the organs. When your blood pressure is too high, the arteries can become inflamed. Blood might leak from them. When pressure is dangerously high, your organs won't get the blood they need to function properly.

There are two types of dangerously high blood pressure, or hypertensive crisis: Urgent and emergency. An urgent hypertensive crisis occurs when your blood pressure is suddenly elevated, but you don't have additional symptoms. An emergency hypertensive crisis occurs when your blood pressure is above 180/120, and you're experiencing symptoms such as:

  • Headache, confusion and blurred vision
  • Chest pain
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Weakness or numbness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Seizures

What Can You Do if Your Blood Pressure Is Too High?

It's important that you see a doctor right away is you're experiencing either an urgent hypertensive crisis or an emergency hypertensive crisis. In either case, your doctor will need to give you treatment to lower your blood pressure and prevent additional damage to your organs.

How to Improve Your Blood Pressure

Getting your blood pressure under control can help you avoid the risk of developing dangerously high blood pressure. Treatment for elevated or moderately high blood pressure often involves making lifestyle changes. Your doctor might recommend that you lose weight, stop smoking, or make dietary changes.

In some cases, medication might be needed to lower your blood pressure to within the normal range. Medication options include thiazide diuretics, which help your body flush out water and sodium, lowering the volume of blood, and angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors, calcium channel blockers, and angiotensin II receptor blockers (ARBs), which help to reduce blood pressure by relaxing the blood vessels.