Headache is quite common in your everyday life. For the same reason, it is difficult to pinpoint the cause behind it. It can be due to a stressful daily routine, lack of sleep, an underlying medical condition or something else altogether. The relationship between high blood pressure and headaches is not as obvious as it sounds as it is a topic that is still being researched. Here, let’s try to understand if high blood pressure can cause headaches and if there is an actual connection between them.Contents:
High blood pressure is when your blood pressure (the force exerted by the blood on your blood vessel walls) is consistently too high. Your blood pressure is determined by two factors, the amount of blood pumped by your heart and the resistance offered by your blood vessels. Blood pressure comprises two numbers:
Blood Pressure Category
Systolic Reading (in mmHg)
Diastolic Reading (in mmHg)
Less than 120
Less than 80
120 to 129
Less than 80
High Blood Pressure
(Stage 1 Hypertension)
130 to 139
80 to 89
High Blood Pressure
(Stage 2 Hypertension)
140 or Higher
90 or Higher
180 or Higher
120 or Higher
Source: American Heart Association (AHA)
Hypertension usually does not show any symptoms until it reaches high levels. Headaches are one such symptom that is seen in some cases of high blood pressure when the levels rise extremely high. Headaches that occur due to high blood pressure usually occur on both sides of the head, particularly in the temple regions. It often tends to be a steady, throbbing, pulsating pain that worsens with any physical activities. The pain is usually felt throughout the head particularly in the forehead or at the back of the head. Though the pain can be severe it subsides as soon as your blood pressure levels begin to drop.
Hypertension headaches are usually known as secondary headaches as they are caused due to an underlying condition. A severe headache could be a sign of dangerously high blood pressure. It is mostly seen when your blood pressure soars to or above 180/120 mm Hg. This stage is referred to as hypertensive crisis which is a medical emergency as it can lead to severe complications such as a stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, or memory loss.
Pre-eclampsia and eclampsia are experienced by women during their pregnancy. They are pregnancy-related high blood pressure disorders that are not very common. Pre-eclampsia refers to a sudden spike in your blood pressure and is characterised by severe, persistent headaches. It can lead to increased swelling and protein in the urine.
The condition can be serious and is a leading cause of pre-term birth (before 37 weeks of pregnancy). Eclampsia is a more severe condition that affects your brain and is accompanied by seizures or may also cause complications such as coma. As severe and persistent headache is an important part of this disorder, the diagnosis should be ruled out in all pregnant women with headaches.
If you experience hypertension headaches, it is essential that you seek immediate medical care. As headache occurs when your blood pressure levels are extremely high, it poses a risk of organ damage and also increases the risk of stroke. The treatment usually involves hospitalisation and treatment with oral and intravenous medications (such as nicardipine, labetalol, and sodium nitroprusside).
In such cases of emergency avoid self-medication, as reducing your blood pressure quickly can affect the blood flow to your brain causing unwanted side effects. Therefore make sure that you consult your doctor and lower your blood pressure in a safe and controlled environment.
Lifestyle changes are also an important part of managing high blood pressure. Here are a few lifestyle modifications that will help you manage hypertension and avoid the related complications:
An occasional headache can be blamed on factors such as stress, anxiety, lack of sleep or fatigue. But frequent headaches could be a sign of an underlying health problem that requires attention. Your doctor will record your medical history to understand if your symptoms indicate a hypertension headache. Communicating your symptoms to the healthcare provider in detail would help ensure prompt and effective treatment.
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