What Blood Pressure Is Considered Life-Threatening?

Medically Reviewed on 10/28/2022
High Blood Pressure
Hypertensive crisis occurs when blood pressure the systolic pressure is greater than 180 mmHg and diastolic pressure is greater than 120 mmHg.

Blood pressure is considered high if it is:

  • In stage I: 130/80 mmHg or higher
  • In stage II: 140/90 mmHg or higher

A sudden fall or spike in blood pressure can be dangerous.

Blood pressure is the force of pushing blood against the walls of the blood vessels. When the heart beats pump the blood, the blood pressure is higher and is called systolic pressure. When the heart is at rest in between the beats, the blood pressure lowers, which is called diastolic pressure.

Normal blood pressure is 120/80 mmHg (120 indicates systolic pressure, and 80 indicates diastolic pressure).


A drop of 20 mmHg systolic pressure from 120 mmHg to 100 or 90 mmHg may cause dizziness and fainting. A sudden big drop could be life-threatening.


Early detection of blood pressure is very important. Hypertension is considered a “silent killer.” It does not show any symptoms but can increase the risk of heart disease, heart damage, stroke, or other conditions. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2013 in the United States, more than 360,000 deaths from hypertension were reported in a year.

  • A sudden spike in blood pressure is called a hypertensive crisis, which is a medical emergency.
  • Blood pressure that is elevated to 180/120 mmHg or higher is dangerous and can lead to a heart attack, stroke, or other life-threatening health problems.
  • A rapid and sudden spike in blood pressure may cause damage to the blood vessels and organs, such as the heart, brain, kidneys, and eyes. During a hypertensive crisis, the heart cannot pump blood properly.
  • More than 100 million adults in the United States have high blood pressure. Only half of this count maintains blood pressure under control. Most people develop high blood pressure in their late 30s or early 40s.

What is a hypertensive crisis?

A sudden increase in blood pressure where the systolic blood pressure is greater than 180 mmHg and diastolic blood pressure is greater than 120 mmHg.

Hypertensive crisis is categorized into two types:

  1. Urgent hypertensive crisis: Blood pressure is 180/120 mmHg or higher. There are no signs of organ failure. Blood pressure can be brought down easily with medications, and it takes a few hours to lower the values after taking medicine.
  2. Emergency hypertensive crisis: Blood pressure is 180/120 mmHg or higher. There is life-threatening damage to the body's organs. In this condition, the blood pressure must be lowered or brought back to normal values immediately using medicines to prevent organ failure.

What are the causes and complications of hypertensive crisis?

Causes of the hypertensive crisis include:

Organ damages that are associated with the emergency hypertensive crisis include:


How to Lower Blood Pressure: Exercise and Tips See Slideshow

What are the symptoms of a hypertensive crisis?

Symptoms of the hypertensive crisis include:

You can check your blood pressure at home when you have high blood pressure and no other symptoms.

Stay calm and recheck the readings again after some time. If the values are still high, then immediately seek medical help.

Untreated blood pressure can cause severe complications and increase the risk of heart problems and stroke. It is imperative to check your blood pressure readings very often.

What are the treatment options for the hypertensive crisis?

The treatment of hypertension includes:

  • Healthy lifestyle habits (stop smoking, limit alcohol consumption, lose weight, practice stress-relieving exercises, eat healthy foods, and exercise regularly)
  • Medications, such as anti-hypertensive drugs
  • Treatment for hypertensive crisis may include a stay in the hospital to monitor organ damage
  • The medicines should be started immediately to lower the blood pressure and are administered orally or intravenously
Medically Reviewed on 10/28/2022
Image Source: iStock image

High Blood Pressure and Hypertensive Crisis. https://www.webmd.com/hypertension-high-blood-pressure/guide/hypertensive-crisis

Understanding Blood Pressure Readings. https://www.heart.org/en/health-topics/high-blood-pressure/understanding-blood-pressure-readings

Hypertensive crisis: What are the symptoms? https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/hypertensive-crisis/faq-20058491