Does high blood pressure cause headaches or other symptoms?

Ask the doctors


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Q. My friend insists that she can feel when she has high blood pressure, because her face flushes and she gets a headache. Is this possible?

A. In almost all instances people cannot feel high blood pressure and are unaware that they have it. This is why it is often referred to as a silent killer.

It is usually only when a person is in the midst of what is known as a hypertensive crisis — a period of extremely high blood pressure with a reading of 180/120 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or higher — that she or he will experience symptoms, such as a headache. This is considered a medical crisis, and if it occurs, you should call 911 and get emergency help.

However, even in these instances, high blood pressure can't be diagnosed based on symptoms alone. The only way to truly tell if you have elevated blood pressure is to take a reading with a blood pressure cuff.

If your friend is experiencing frequent headaches and other symptoms she's attributing to high blood pressure, it might be wise for her to visit her doctor to make sure another condition isn't causing the problem. If she does have uncontrolled high blood pressure, she should also be certain to work with her doctor to manage her condition. Unchecked, high blood pressure can lead to numerous complications, including damage to your arteries, brain, heart, and kidneys.

— by Hope Ricciotti, M.D., and Toni Golen, M.D.
Editors in Chief, Harvard Women's Health Watch

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