High blood pressure, also known as hypertension, is defined as a consistent blood pressure of 130/80 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher. That means either the systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) or the diastolic blood pressure (the second number in a blood pressure reading) reach or go above those two numbers.
Usually, high blood pressure develops over a long period of time—typically many years. People with high blood pressure often don’t experience any symptoms and only realize they have hypertension when a healthcare provider measures their blood pressure.
However, there are some symptoms associated with extremely high blood pressure. These symptoms include headache, nosebleeds, and a feeling of anxiety or dread.
Knowing the signs and symptoms associated with high blood pressure can help you determine when to see a healthcare provider or if you should seek emergency medical help.
Symptoms of High Blood Pressure Stages 1 and 2
Consistent blood pressure readings of 130/80 mmHg or higher are classified as Hypertension Stage 1. Consistent readings of 140/90 mmHg or higher are classified as Hypertension Stage 2.
People with either stage of high blood pressure typically do not experience any symptoms.
However, some people may experience symptoms indirectly related to high blood pressure, meaning the symptoms are not caused by high blood pressure, but they typically present alongside the condition. These symptoms can include:
- Facial flushing, which is temporary redness that happens when the face’s blood vessels widen
- Blood spots in the eyes, also known as subconjunctival hemorrhage
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
Symptoms of Severe Blood Pressure
A sudden, severe spike in blood pressure, also known as hypertensive crisis, will show a blood pressure reading higher than 180/120 mm Hg.
Sign and symptoms of a hypertensive crisis may include:
- Severe headache
- Feelings of anxiety or impending doom
- Difficulty breathing
- Chest or back pain
- Muscle weakness, numbness, or tremors
- Visual problems
- Difficulty speaking
- Nausea and vomiting
- Vertigo (sensation of spinning or dizziness)
Hypertensive crisis can lead to serious and potentially fatal health complications, such as kidney damage, stroke, and heart attack. It’s important to get emergency medical help immediately if your systolic blood pressure goes above 180mmHg or diastolic blood pressure goes above 120mmHg.
When to See a Healthcare Provider
If you think you may have high blood pressure, see a healthcare provider to get a reading on your levels. They can determine whether you have high blood pressure and give guidance or treatment on how to lower your blood pressure.
If you’ve already been diagnosed with high blood pressure, you can monitor your levels at home with a digital blood pressure monitor. Let your healthcare provider know if your blood pressure consistently reaches 130/80 or higher. Over time, untreated high blood pressure can increase your risk of complications like stroke, heart attack, and heart disease.
Keep in mind that a severe spike in blood pressure may be a medical emergency. If your blood pressure goes higher than 180/120 mmHg and you’re experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, back pain, or headache, call 911 or get brought to the hospital immediately.
If your blood pressure goes higher than 180/120 mmHg and you don’t have any symptoms, take the reading again and reach out to a healthcare provider about what to do next.
A Quick Review
Usually, high blood pressure doesn’t cause any symptoms. Regular check ups with your healthcare provider are important for detecting changes in your blood pressure. Most people only realize they have high blood pressure during a check-up with a healthcare provider.
Some people with high blood pressure experience symptoms like a flushed face, blood spots in the eyes, and dizziness. These symptoms are typically not caused by high blood pressure, but they can occur alongside the condition.
In the event of a hypertensive crisis—a severe, abrupt rise in blood pressure—you may experience symptoms like headache, chest pain, or shortness of breath. If your blood pressure rises above 180/120 mmHg alongside any of these symptoms, seek emergency medical assistance right away.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. High blood pressure symptoms and causes.
American Heart Association. What are the symptoms of high blood pressure?
American Heart Association. Hypertensive crisis: When you should call 911 for high blood pressure.
American Heart Association. Understanding blood pressure readings.
World Health Organization. Hypertension.
Salkic S, Batic-Mujanovic O, Ljuca F, Brkic S. Clinical presentation of hypertensive crises in emergency medical services. Mater Sociomed. 2014;26(1),12-16. doi:10.5455/msm.2014.26.12-16