High Blood Pressure Headaches

High Blood Pressure Headaches


High blood pressure headaches are not only painful and even debilitating. They are a loud message from your body that something is wrong. Your headache may be your first clue that you have high blood pressure, or hypertension. Or, it could be a sign that your hypertension is not well controlled.

Whether you have headaches, other hypertension symptoms, or no symptoms at all, high blood pressure is to be taken seriously. It can cause devastating health consequences if uncontrolled, but it can also be treated. You can take steps to lower blood pressure and avoid high blood pressure headaches.

 

Blood Pressure and High Blood Pressure


Blood pressure is the force of your blood against the walls of your arteries, which are blood vessels that carry oxygenated blood from your heart towards the rest of your body. Most often, you will receive two numbers. 

Systolic blood pressure is the higher number. It reflects the force when your heart is contracting and pushing blood. Diastolic blood pressure is lower. It is the pressure measured at the time when your heart is relaxing between beats.

These are normal and hypertensive values. [1]

Category Systolic Blood Pressure Diastolic Blood Pressure
Normal
Under 120 mm Hg
Under 80 mm Hg
Elevated
120-129 mm Hg
Under mm Hg
Stage 1 Hypertension
130-139 mm Hg
80-89 mm Hg
Stage 2 Hypertension
At least 140 mm Hg
At least 90 mm Hg
Hypertensive Crisis
At least 180 mm Hg
At least 120 mm Hg

Consider the higher value; that is, you have hypertension even if your systolic blood pressure is high while diastolic is normal.

 

High Blood Pressure Headaches and Other Hypertension Symptoms


Your blood pressure headache may be exactly what you might guess based on the feelings of pain and pressure in your head. As it feels like, that headache is the result of too much pressure in your head. 

Other hypertension symptoms are also rare. You might not ever get them or you might get one or more of them only when you have a hypertensive crisis, which can be a medical emergency. [2]

  • Nosebleeds.

  • Blood spots in your eyes, or subconjunctival conjunctivitis.

  • Reddening of the face, or facial flushing, in the heat, cold, or wind, or after eating spicy foods or drinking hot beverages, or at other times.

Since these symptoms can indicate a hypertensive crisis, contact your healthcare provider or get medical care immediately if you have them.

 

Hypertension: The “Silent Killer”


Blood flows through your blood vessels and the force varies second to second anyway, so why does it matter if blood pressure is high? That is, why is hypertension so dangerous? Hypertension is called “the silent killer” for two reasons. [3]

  1. Most people with hypertension do not have symptoms. It is “silent.”

  2. Hypertension is linked to 1,100 deaths every single day in the U.S. [4] It is a “killer.”

Uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause strokes, heart attacks, kidney failure, and aneurysms without previous symptoms or warning signs. That is why it is important to know your blood pressure and treat it if you have hypertension.

 

Do You Have Hypertension?


Symptoms or not, you may have high blood pressure. About 1 out of 3 American adults has it, and another 1 out of three have prehypertension[5]. Not only that, but 1 out of 5 Americans has hypertension and does not know it.

Risk factors for hypertension include:

  • Older age.

  • African-American.

  • Obesity and overweight.

  • High-sodium or otherwise unhealthy diet.

  • Low physical activity.

  • Smoking.

  • Health conditions such as diabetes, sleep apnea, and high cholesterol.

  • Excess stress.

Are you among the 150 million Americans with hypertension or pre-hypertension, or among the millions more with risk factors? Do not wait until you develop high blood pressure headaches to find out! [6]

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that everyone over age 3 get screened for hypertension at least once a year. You may get your blood pressure checked whenever you visit your primary care provider or any other doctor or healthcare provider. Many pharmacies offer free blood pressure measuring as well. 

If you have high blood pressure, your doctor may recommend lifestyle changes as a first line of treatment. Medications may be necessary if those healthy behaviors do not work.

 

Treatment for High Blood Pressure Headaches


If you do get them, high blood pressure headaches tend to come during a hypertensive crisis. This is defined as blood pressure over 180/120 mm Hg. You might also have a nosebleed or feel generally ill.

The American Heart Association [7] and American College of Cardiology recommend these steps if you have a hypertension headache due to a hypertensive crisis. [8]

  • Take your blood pressure if you suspect you have a hypertensive crisis.

  • If it is over 180/120 mm Hg, rest for 5 minutes.

  • Take your blood pressure again.

  • If you still have a headache or nosebleed or do not feel well and your blood pressure is still over 180/120 mm Hg, dial 9-1-1.

Without quick action to lower your blood pressure, a hypertensive crisis can lead to permanent target organ damage, such as to your brain, heart, and kidneys.

 

How to Lower Blood Pressure


A healthier diet and increased physical activity can control blood pressure without medications in some cases. In other cases, a healthier lifestyle may not be enough on its own to control blood pressure, but it can reduce your need for medications.

For motivation to live healthy, you can see estimates of how much each healthy change can help lower blood pressure. [9] These tips may also help.

Healthy Behavior Effect Tips
Weight loss
1 mm Hg per kg (2.2 lb.)
  • Smaller portions of high-calorie foods
  • More vegetables and lean proteins
Healthy diet
(DASH)
11 mm Hg
  • More vegetables, fruit, whole grains, low-fat dairy, lean meats, nuts
  • Less dessert, red meat, fried food, butter
Less sodium
5 mm Hg
  • Reduce salt and processed, fast, and salty foods
More potassium
4 mm Hg
  • Fruits, vegetables, dairy, beans, and fish
More physical activity
14 mm Hg
  • 150 minutes per week of aerobic activity such as brisk walking, swimming, or cycling
  • Strength training several times weekly
Quit smoking
9 mm Hg
  • Combination of counseling and medication
 

Your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medications to control your blood pressure if the lifestyle changes you make do not lower your numbers enough to be safe. A variety of medications are available. You and your doctor can work together to decide which may be right for you.

 

Making Your Blood Pressure Treatment Work for You


One thing is certain: your blood pressure treatment program will work best if you follow it. Where can you get the support, education, reminders, and tracking you may need to get active, lose weight, take your medications, and choose healthier foods?

Lark Hypertension Care is a health coach that is ready for you 24/7. This smartphone app is designed for hypertension management through a program customized for you. You can use it to lower your blood pressure and maybe, just maybe, high blood pressure headaches will not happen to you!

 


toru izumida

New York, US