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Black Americans: Recognize a blood pressure emergency

Oct. 8, 2018—A new study shows that black adults in the U.S. experience dangerous spikes in high blood pressure at five times the national average. Doctors call these spikes a hypertensive crisis—and they can be deadly.

When this complication of high blood pressure happens, blood pressure suddenly soars to life-threatening levels. Blood pressure this high can lead to catastrophic organ failure, including a stroke, heart attack and kidney failure.

Researchers looked at the emergency department records of more than 15,000 patients from 2013 to 2016. They defined a hypertensive crisis as blood pressure at or above 200/120. But the American Heart Association (AHA) defines this complication as blood pressure at or above 180/120. This means the study may underestimate the number of people who experience a hypertensive crisis.

Today's medications for high blood pressure work well, and taking them correctly can help prevent a hypertensive crisis, the researchers said.

They presented their findings at the AHA's Joint Hypertension 2018 Scientific Sessions.

Act quickly

This study has a clear message: If your doctor prescribes high blood pressure medicine, take it exactly as directed. Track your blood pressure at home too, the AHA advises. In an emergency, these logs can provide valuable information for the doctors treating you.

Also crucial: Blood pressure of 180/120 or greater needs immediate attention, the AHA cautions. Blood pressure this high may not have symptoms, but if it does, they can include:

  • A severe headache.
  • Severe anxiety.
  • Nosebleeds.
  • Shortness of breath.

Call 911 right away if you have any of these signs of possible organ damage:

  • Chest or back pain.
  • Numbness or weakness.
  • A change in vision.
  • Trouble speaking.
  • Shortness of breath.

Blood pressure and your health

Check out this infographic and see what high blood pressure does to your body.

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