Blood pressure is the force exerted by blood against the inner walls of the blood vessels. The normal blood pressure is under 140 mm Hg of systolic pressure and under 90 mm HG of diastolic pressure.(1,2) High blood pressure or hypertension is a condition when the force exerted by blood is above normal acceptable limits. This, if left untreated, can lead to harmful effects to other organs especially the heart.
Sudden spike in blood pressure can be alarming as it may indicate a condition called as hypertensive crisis. Not all sudden high blood pressure causes this; but if it is caused it is considered as an emergency situation that needs immediate medical help. Hypertensive crisis is a serious medical condition characterised by sudden spike in blood pressure often leading to stroke. Sudden high blood pressure can lead to inflammation and breakage of blood vessels which causes leakage of blood because the heart is unable to pump blood efficiently. This occurs usually when the blood pressure is above 180 mm Hg of systolic pressure (the top number) and above 120 mm Hg of diastolic pressure (the bottom number).
What Causes A Sudden Spike in Blood Pressure?
Based on the causes and underlying conditions, the sudden spike in blood pressure can bring in 2 situations – Emergency and Urgent. Emergency situation is when sudden increase in blood pressure has the potential to damage internal organs and even cause death. Urgent situation is when there is no life threatening symptoms.
The possible causes of sudden spike in blood pressure includes (but not restricted to)(3,4)
- Excessive intake of caffeine
- Over dosage of recreational drugs such as cocaine
- Side effects of medications
- Stress, anxiety and psychological trauma(5)
- Pregnancy related high blood pressure
- Chronic renal issues
- Overactivity of adrenal glands
- Overactive or underactive thyroid glands
- Collagen vascular diseases.
The most common causes of emergency situation due to sudden spike in blood pressure(3) are listed below:
- Heart attack or myocardial infarction
- Renal failure (Kidney failure)
- Missing blood pressure medication
- Side effects of drug interactions
- Eclampsia or convulsions during pregnancy
- Rupture of aorta which is human body’s main artery.
Sudden spike in blood pressure is also noted in a condition called as white coat hypertension. It is a condition where the patient’s blood pressure appears when at physician’s office but otherwise it is within normal range.(6) This occurs usually due to stress and anxiety when at physician’s office. However recent studies have shown that white coat hypertension should not be ignored and specialized tests such as measuring blood pressure over 24 hours etc. should be conducted to rule out any underlying serious issues.
When Should Someone Go To Hospital for High Blood Pressure?
Based on the severity of the issue, sudden increase in blood pressure may require hospitalization. The most common symptoms experienced with increased blood pressure include (which may indicate organ damage):
- Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
- Chest pain
- Blurred vision
- Numbness or weakness
- Slurred speech or difficulty speaking(7)
If the patient’s blood pressure reading is equal to or more than 180/120 mmHg, it is advised to recheck the blood pressure after 5 minutes again. If there is no change in reading or if the reading appears higher than the previous reading it is advised to visit a physician as soon as possible. If there are no associated symptoms such as change in vision, chest pain, difficulty breathing, generalized weakness, numbness, backache, or difficulty in speaking, a hospitalization is usually not required. This is considered as hypertensive urgency(8) and it is often treated by altering the medication or adjusting the dosage as required. It is important to note that in such a scenario it may not be required to visit a doctor at that very moment, but a doctor should be consulted soon. If left untreated, it can lead to serious complications.
If the blood pressure reading is more than 180/120 mmHg along with symptoms such as change in vision, chest pain, difficulty breathing, generalized weakness, numbness, backache, or difficulty speaking it is considered as an emergency situation and the patient needs to be rushed to a medical centre immediately without any delay.(7) It is wise to call an ambulance for immediate medical attention.
Sudden spike in blood pressure can be very risky and lead to serious health complications. Whatever the reason is, sudden high blood pressure should not be taken casually and requires medical attention. Untreated blood pressure can worsen over time and can lead to serious complications and sometimes even sudden death. The most common complications of elevated blood pressure include long standing renal disorders, damage to eyes, aneurysms, cardiac failure, stroke, vascular dementia, peripheral artery disease, and heart attack or myocardial infarction.(9) Hence, it must never be taken lightly whether it is an urgent or an emergency situation.
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