Does High Blood Pressure Always Cause Headaches?

Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)
Dr. Pakhi Sharma (MBBS)

General Physician | 6+ years

Blood Pressure Headache
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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:
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    What is High Blood Pressure?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    What is Hypertension Headache?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    Does High Blood Pressure Always Cause Headaches?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    Pregnancy-Related High Blood Pressure
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    How to Cure Hypertension Headaches?
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    When to See a Doctor?
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    Don’t Have Time To Read?
  • blog_single_bullet_icon
    FAQs
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What is High Blood Pressure?

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:

  • The systolic blood pressure (the top number) indicates the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats.
  • The diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number) indicates the pressure in your arteries between the beats.

Blood Pressure Category

Systolic Reading (in mmHg)

Diastolic Reading (in mmHg)

Normal 

Less than 120

Less than 80 

Elevated

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

Hypertensive Crisis

180 or Higher

120 or Higher

Source: American Heart Association (AHA)

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What is Hypertension Headache?

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.  

Does High Blood Pressure Always Cause Headaches?

If high blood pressure can cause headaches is something that is still under research. While some studies support the claim, some suggest that there is no correlation between high blood pressure and headaches. Let’s take a deeper look at the supporting and contradicting evidence.

Evidence Supporting the Idea

Some studies suggest that hypertension headaches occur when the condition affects the blood-brain barrier (a semipermeable membrane that covers your brain). Severe cases of hypertension headaches can result in excess pressure on the brain resulting in a leakage of blood from its blood vessels. This leakage can result in oedema or swelling, leading to symptoms such as headache, dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, weakness, confusion and seizures. 

Evidence Contradicting the Idea

Despite the early recognition of an association, the link between high blood pressure and headaches has often been attributed to factors such as stress, anger, anxiety or a side effect of medications. Another study reported anxiety-induced hyperventilation (rapid or deep breathing) as a cause of headaches in hypertension. Therefore there is no clear indication of the regular occurrence of headaches in those with high blood pressure.  As you have read, the data available about hypertension headaches are quite contradictory and we still require more information to confirm if high blood pressure can cause headaches.

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.

How to Cure Hypertension 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:

  • Have a healthy, balanced diet
  • Reduce your salt intake
  • Manage a healthy weight
  • Increase your physical activity
  • Manage stress
  • Avoid smoking
  • Limit alcohol
  • Monitor your blood pressure regularly
  • Consult your doctor regularly and follow their advice carefully

When to See a Doctor?

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.

Don’t Have Time To Read?

  • High blood pressure is when your blood pressure (the force exerted by the blood on your blood vessel walls) is consistently too high.
  • 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 the temple regions. It often tends to be a steady, throbbing, pulsating pain that worsens with any physical activities. 
  • In the case of hypertension headaches, 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 your blood pressure levels drop.
  • If high blood pressure can actually cause headaches is something that is still under research. While some studies support the claim, some suggest that there is no correlation between high blood pressure and headaches.
  • The supporting evidence states that headaches in hypertension occur when high blood pressure affects the blood-brain barrier. Whereas some other studies suggest that in hypertension, headaches often occur due to factors such as stress, anger, anxiety or as a side effect of medications. Therefore, we still require more information to confirm if high blood pressure can cause headaches or not. 
  • The key to managing hypertension headaches is to keep your blood pressure levels in control. Few ways to lower your blood pressure and prevent hypertension headaches include having a healthy diet, regular exercise, stress control, monitoring your blood pressure regularly and taking your medications as prescribed.
  • Use the Phable Care App to consult India’s leading cardiologists, order medicines, book lab tests, integrate BP monitors and other devices to get real-time remote care from the comfort of your home. Also, check out our Hypertension Management Program which provides ‎360º care. Let’s treat low/high blood pressure problems together

Frequently Asked Questions

Blood pressure headaches can occur when your blood pressure rises to dangerous levels (180/120 mm Hg or more). The symptoms of this headache can last from 15 minutes to 1 hour. The symptoms start subsiding as soon as your blood pressure starts to drop.

High blood pressure headache is a severe, pulsating headache that usually occurs on both the sides of the head. It often tends to worsen with any physical activities. In severe cases, it can increase the pressure in your brain leading to symptoms such as dizziness, nausea, blurred vision, weakness, confusion and seizures. 

High blood pressure usually does not show any symptoms unless it reaches high levels. Some of the symptoms that you can look out for include throbbing headache, shortness of breath, tiredness, blurred vision, nosebleeds and dizziness.

Treating high blood pressure begins with making lifestyle adjustments, such as having a healthy balanced diet, exercising regularly and following your doctor’s instructions carefully. Drinking water can contribute to your overall wellness by flushing toxins out of your body. Drinking at least 8 glasses of water a day can keep you hydrated, help balance the sodium levels in the body and thus helps you maintain healthy blood pressure. 

Changing your position can bring mild alterations in your blood pressure levels. Elevating your legs can help lower the pressure in your legs by allowing blood that has pooled to drain away. If you have been standing for a while, sitting down with your legs raised can also help ease the pressure and tenderness of tired feet and bring down your blood pressure.

Dr. Pakhi Sharma
Dr. Pakhi Sharma, MBBS
(General physician, 6+ years)
An expert in obstetrics and medical emergencies, Dr. Pakhi Sharma, an alumni of Sri Devaraj Urs University of Higher Education and Research Centre, is a general physician working at Phablecare. She has 6+ years of work experience spread across gynaecology and obstetrics, family medicine, and medical emergencies at renowned hospitals and clinics.

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