Symptoms of high blood pressure: Myths, facts, and pregnancy

High blood pressure, or hypertension, affects around 1 in 3 American adults. The current guidelines and definition mean that close to half of all adults in the United States will be diagnosed with the condition.

When a person has high blood pressure, their blood is putting too much pressure on the walls of the arteries as it flows through.

If a person does not receive treatment, hypertension can cause serious health complications, such as heart disease and stroke. Nearly everyone can treat hypertension with lifestyle changes, and some people may also benefit from medication.

In this article, we discuss the myths and facts of high blood pressure symptoms. We also describe high and normal blood pressure readings and complications of high blood pressure.

Fact and fiction

Some people may believe that if they do not experience symptoms, they have no reason to worry about their blood pressure. Unfortunately, this is not the case.

High blood pressure usually has no symptoms until it causes serious complications. The only way to know a person’s blood pressure is to check it.

Many believe that high blood pressure causes symptoms such as headaches, nervousness, sweating, and facial redness. However, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), hypertension often causes none of these issues.

Symptoms that people often mistakenly attribute to high blood pressure include:

  • Headaches and nosebleeds: Hypertension only causes headaches or nosebleeds when blood pressure is dangerously high, which is known as a hypertensive crisis. This is considered a medical emergency.
  • Dizziness: High blood pressure does not cause dizziness, though some blood pressure lowering medications can make a person feel dizzy.
  • Facial redness: Hypertension does not cause facial flushing, but a person may temporarily experience both high blood pressure and facial flushing from factors such as stress, alcohol, or spicy foods.

People may experience symptoms of high blood pressure when the reading suddenly rises above 180/120 millimeters of mercury (mmHg). This is considered a hypertensive crisis with hypertensive urgency or a hypertensive emergency depending on a person’s other symptoms.

Symptoms of a hypertensive crisis include the following:

  • severe headaches
  • nosebleeds
  • chest pain
  • back pain
  • severe anxiety
  • shortness of breath

Hypertension is relatively common during pregnancy, affecting an estimated 6–8 percent of pregnant women ages 20–44 in the U.S.

Hypertension during pregnancy is treatable. Women who have chronic high blood pressure can still have healthy babies, as long as they closely monitor and address their blood pressure throughout their pregnancy.

If a pregnant woman does not receive treatment, however, the uncontrolled high blood pressure can cause serious complications for herself and the baby.

Symptoms and signs of high blood pressure during pregnancy include:

  • headaches
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • abdominal pain
  • weight gain
  • edema, or swelling
  • signs of kidney problems, such as protein in the urine (proteinuria)
  • shortness of breath
  • dizziness
  • vision problems

Complications of high blood pressure

High blood pressure can cause unnoticeable but progressive damage to the body over the course of several years before a person develops complications.

Some complications of high blood pressure include:

  • sexual dysfunction
  • damage to the arteries and other blood vessels
  • a heart attack
  • heart failure
  • ischemic heart disease
  • microvascular disease
  • an abnormally thickened wall of the left ventricle, which is called left ventricular hypertrophy
  • an ischemic or hemorrhagic stroke
  • an artery aneurysm and rupture
  • vision loss
  • kidney disease, including kidney failure


High blood pressure is a common health condition that can cause serious complications if a person does not receive treatment.

Some people mistakenly believe that hypertension will cause noticeable symptoms, like headaches, nosebleeds, and dizziness. However, these usually do not occur until high blood pressure becomes a medical emergency.

Usually, there are no symptoms, so many people are unaware that they have high blood pressure until serious health complications occur.

The only way to assess blood pressure is to get it checked. It is important to do so regularly, especially for people who have had readings above the normal range.

Women can develop high blood pressure during pregnancy. It may be a good idea for pregnant women to speak to their healthcare providers about ways to prevent or reduce high blood pressure.

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