Hypertension (high blood pressure) is a common condition that affects one in three Americans (CDC, 2012). High blood pressure is diagnosed if your blood pressure is over 120 systolic and/or 80 diastolic (120/80 mmHg). High blood pressure is generally manageable, as long as you follow your doctors advice.
Although not common, some people with high blood pressure may have rapid increases in blood pressure above 180 systolic and/or 120 diastolic (180/120). This is known as malignant hypertension. This condition is sometimes referred to as arteriolar nephrosclerosis.
Malignant hypertension requires immediate medical attention. If emergency treatment is not provided, you may develop serious health problems, such as a heart attack, brain damage or kidney failure.
Malignant hypertension mostly occurs in patients with a history of high blood pressure. It is especially common in patients whose blood pressure is above 140/90. According to the National Institutes of Health, about one percent of people with high blood pressure develop malignant hypertension (NIH, 2012).
Some health issues increase your chances of developing malignant hypertension. These include:
Malignant hypertension is also more common in African Americans, males, and individuals who smoke.
High blood pressure is commonly referred to as the “silent killer” because it doesnt always have obvious signs or symptoms. Unlike high blood pressure, malignant hypertension produces very noticeable symptoms that include:
Malignant hypertension can also result in a condition known as hypertensive encephalopathy. Symptoms of this disorder include:
These symptoms may not be due to malignant hypertension. They may be related to other health conditions that are less serious. However, malignant hypertension is so serious, if you experience these symptoms you should seek emergency medical help. Your doctor will be able to provide you with more information about your condition.
Your doctor will ask you about your health history including treatment for high blood pressure. Your doctor will also measure your blood pressure. This will help to determine whether or not emergency treatment is needed.
Other tests may be used to see if your condition has resulted in organ damage. For instance, blood tests measuring BUN and creatinine levels may be ordered. BUN is blood urea nitrogen, which measures the amount of waste product form the breakdown of protein in the body. Creatinine is a chemical produced by breakdown of muscles that is cleared from the blood by the kidneys. When the kidneys are not functioning normally, these tests will be abnormal. Your doctor may also order the following:
Malignant hypertension is a medical emergency. Treatment must be provided immediately to lower blood pressure. Typically, treatment includes the use of intravenous high blood pressure medications. These medications are called antihypertensive medications. They are administered directly into the bloodstream through a vein in your arm for immediate action.
Once your blood pressure has been stabilized, your doctor will prescribe oral blood pressure medications. These medications will enable you to control your blood pressure at home. If you are diagnosed with malignant hypertension, you will need to follow your doctors recommendations. This will include having regular check-ups to monitor your blood pressure.
Some cases of malignant hypertension can be prevented. If you have high blood pressure, it is important for you to check your blood pressure regularly. It is also important for you to take all prescribed medications without missing any doses. Take your medications and follow your doctors advice. Seek immediate treatment if the condition does occur. Urgent care will be necessary to help reduce organ damage.