Definition

Malignant hypertension is blood pressure that is so high that it can harm the body. It can be deadly and needs to be treated right away.

Cardiovascular System and Kidneys
Placement of Blood Pressure Cuff
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Causes

This problem can happen when high blood pressure is not managed with medicine. Some other problems that may lead to it are:

  • Kidney disorders or failure
  • Taking some medicines, such as monoamine oxidase inhibitors or birth control pills
  • Using drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines
  • Being pregnant and having preeclampsia or eclampsia
  • Hormonal problems, such as Cushing disease
  • Spinal cord problems
  • Coarctation of the aorta
  • Narrowing of the arteries to the kidneys

Risk Factors

This problem is more common in older adults, especially men. It is also more common in people who are Black. Other things that may raise the risk are:

  • Heart failure
  • Marijuana use
  • Coronary artery disease
  • Kidney disease
  • High cholesterol

Symptoms

Some people may not have symptoms. Others may have:

  • Headache
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Eyesight problems
  • Numbness of the legs, arms, or face
  • Problems breathing
  • Chest pain

Diagnosis

The doctor will ask about your symptoms and health history. A physical exam will be done. Blood pressure readings will be taken.

These tests may be done to look for damage in the body:

  • Blood and urine tests
  • An EKG to measure the electrical activity in the heart
  • An eye exam to look for swelling or bleeding
  • Images of the body taken with:

Treatment

This problem needs to be treated right away. Options depend on the damage that has happened.

Medicine will be given to lower blood pressure. It may be given by IV. This lets the medicine quickly lower blood pressure. Options are:

  • Sodium nitroprusside or nitroglycerin
  • Beta-blockers
  • Other vasodilators
  • ACE-inhibitor

A care plan will be made to keep blood pressure at a healthy level. Medicine will need to be part of it.

Prevention

People with high blood pressure can lower the chance of this problem by checking their blood pressure often and taking medicine to lower it.

Revision Information

  • Reviewer: EBSCO Medical Review Board James P. Cornell, MD
  • Review Date: 09/2019 -
  • Update Date: 12/03/2019 -