7 Symptoms Never to Ignore If You Have High Blood Pressure

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  • High blood pressure (also called hypertension) is a very common condition that affects more than 76 million Americans. But hypertension also is a very serious condition that can damage your heart, brain and kidneys. Because hypertension doesn’t usually produce symptoms, you might overlook physical signs that could indicate you are experiencing high blood pressure complications. If you have been diagnosed with hypertension, stay alert for these symptoms you should never ignore.

  • 1
    Headache
    Woman using smartphone

    Everyone gets a headache now and then, and it’s usually no big deal. But if you have hypertension, you should think about headache differently, as the event might signal a dangerous increase in your blood pressure. Be especially alert to any headache that comes on suddenly, is very painful and is accompanied by other symptoms like blurred vision, confusion or one-sided paralysis of the face, arms or legs. If these symptoms occur, seek immediate medical attention by dialing 911. For milder headaches or those that come and go, consult your healthcare provider for guidance.

  • 2
    Chest pain
    Close-up of African American man's hands clutching chest with chest pain or arrhythmia

    High blood pressure occurs when blood travels too forcefully through your arteries. This excessive force can damage the arteries of the heart and lead to a heart attack. If you have hypertension, you should seek emergency medical attention by calling 911 if you experience acute pain in your chest or mid-back, especially if it is accompanied by:

    Never treat the possible signs of heart attack lightly, especially if you have been diagnosed with hypertension.

  • 3
    Swollen feet, legs or abdomen
    Close-up of elderly Caucasian woman's feet and ankles with swelling and edema

    If hypertension damages your heart muscle, you may experience some of the signs and symptoms of heart failure. Never ignore:

    • Routinely swollen feet or legs, even if the swelling goes down when you elevate them

    • Swelling or distension around the midsection, especially if your belly is firm to the touch

    • Frequent coughing, especially if it gets worse at night or when you’re lying down

    • Periodic shortness of breath, or inability to catch your breath after moderate physical activity

    • Chronic fatigue

    If you develop any of these symptoms, consult your healthcare provider for help managing your blood pressure and any related heart condition.

  • 4
    Memory loss
    woman home office

    High blood pressure can cause memory loss for many reasons. Hypertension impairs the heart’s ability to oxygenate tissues throughout the body, which might include the brain. Low oxygen levels in the brain can cause memory loss and other symptoms, like confusion. And long-term hypertension, especially if untreated, can cause cholesterol plaques to block small arteries (and blood flow) within the brain. Either of these conditions can cause memory loss, so you should report any cognitive impairment to your healthcare provider for further evaluation.

  • 5
    Sudden change in urination
    Close-up of a bathroom door handle

    Many people characterize hypertension as a disease of the heart or blood vessels, but the condition also can take a high toll on the kidneys. If you have high blood pressure, do not ignore these kidney-related symptoms:

    • Producing more or less urine than usual

    • Swollen feet or ankles

    • Abdominal or back pain

    • Itchy skin, which can be caused by excess urea levels in the blood due to poorly functioning kidneys

    • Nosebleeds, which can occur if reduced kidney function lowers the numbers of platelets in the blood

    Your cardiologist or primary care provider will want to know if you develop symptoms that may indicate your hypertension is affecting your kidney function. Make an appointment to have the situation evaluated.

  • 6
    Sudden abdominal pain
    Senior African American woman in park with hand on stomach

    Hypertension can cause the large abdominal artery (aorta) to bulge or even burst. This life-threatening condition, called an abdominal aortic aneurysm, must be treated promptly by a medical professional. Seek emergency medical attention by dialing 911 if you have been diagnosed with hypertension and experience:

    • Sudden, severe abdominal pain, often characterized as a “tearing pain” in the lower-left quadrant of your body

    • Pulsating sensation if you place the palm of your hand over the navel (belly button)

    • Deep pain in the lower back

    • Loss of consciousness

  • 7
    Vision loss
    older male shopping for medication

    If high blood pressure damages the delicate arteries of the eye, you may experience distorted vision, such as blurriness or total vision loss. If you experience even temporary vision loss in one or both eyes, be sure to follow up with your healthcare provider for an evaluation. Vision disruption may indicate your blood pressure medication needs to be adjusted, or you may need to make lifestyle changes, such as following a low-sodium diet, to better control your hypertension.

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Medical Reviewer: William C. Lloyd III, MD, FACS
Last Review Date: 2020 Aug 19
  1. Hypertension. U.S. National Library of Medicine. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedhealth/PMHT0024199/
  2. High Blood Pressure. U.S. National Library of Medicine,
    MedlinePlus. https://medlineplus.gov/highbloodpressure.html
  3. Blood Pressure [video]. American Heart Association. https://watchlearnlive.heart.org/CVML_Player.php?moduleSelect=bldprs
  4. Kidney Failure (ESRD) Causes, Symptoms and Treatment.
    American Kidney Fund. http://www.kidneyfund.org/kidney-disease/kidney-failure/#symptoms
  5. Uraemic pruritus. DermNet NZ. https://www.dermnetnz.org/topics/uraemic-pruritus-renal-itch
  6. Kaw D, Malhotra D; Platelet dysfunction and end-stage renal
    disease. Seminars in Dialysis. 2006;Jul-Aug;19(4):317-22. Cited on https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16893410
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