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Hypertension, or high blood pressure, is a common condition that affects 1 in 3 Americans. High blood pressure is diagnosed if one or both of the following occur:
High blood pressure is generally manageable if you follow your doctor’s advice.
Although it’s not common, some people with high blood pressure may have a rapid rise in blood pressure above 180/120 mm Hg. This is known as malignant hypertension. This condition is sometimes referred to as arteriolar nephrosclerosis.
Malignant hypertension requires immediate medical attention. If you don’t get emergency treatment, you may develop serious health problems, such as a heart attack, stroke, or kidney failure.
High blood pressure is commonly referred to as the "silent killer" because it doesn’t always have obvious signs or symptoms. Unlike moderate high blood pressure, malignant hypertension has very noticeable symptoms that include:
Malignant hypertension can also result in a condition known as hypertensive encephalopathy. The symptoms of this disorder include:
Malignant hypertension mostly occurs in people with a history of high blood pressure. It’s also more common in African-Americans, males, and people who smoke. It’s especially common in people whose blood pressure is above 140/90 mm Hg. About 1 percent of people with high blood pressure develop malignant hypertension.
Some health issues increase your chances of having malignant hypertension. These include:
In some cases, these symptoms may not be due to malignant hypertension. They may be related to other health conditions that are less serious. However, malignant hypertension is so serious that you should seek emergency medical help if you have any of these symptoms. Your doctor will be able to provide you with more information about your condition.
Your doctor will ask you about your health history including any treatments you’re on for high blood pressure. They’ll also measure your blood pressure. This will help to determine whether or not emergency treatment is needed.
Other tests may be used to see if your condition has resulted in organ damage. For instance, blood tests measuring BUN and creatinine levels may be ordered. BUN stands for blood urea nitrogen, which measures the amount of waste product from the breakdown of protein in the body. Creatinine is a chemical produced by the breakdown of muscles. Your kidneys clear it from your blood. When the kidneys aren’t functioning normally, these tests will be abnormal. Your doctor may also order the following:
Malignant hypertension is a medical emergency. You need to get treatment for it immediately to lower your blood pressure and avoid dangerous complications. Typically, treatment includes using high blood pressure medications given intravenously, which means they go directly into your bloodstream through a vein in your arm. This allows for immediate action. These medications are called antihypertensive medications.
Once your blood pressure has been stabilized, your doctor will prescribe oral blood pressure medications. These medications will enable you to control your blood pressure at home. If you’re diagnosed with malignant hypertension, you’ll need to follow your doctor’s recommendations. This will include having regular checkups to monitor your blood pressure.
Some cases of malignant hypertension can be prevented. If you have high blood pressure, it’s important for you to check your blood pressure regularly. It’s also important for you to take all prescribed medications without missing any doses. Also, try to maintain a healthy lifestyle and follow your doctor’s advice. Seek immediate treatment if you get any of the associated symptoms. You’ll need urgent care to help reduce organ damage.
The following are tips to lower your blood pressure
Written by: Darla Burke
Medically reviewed on: Dec 21, 2015: Steven Kim, MD
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