A new study finds that between 2006 and 2011, the number of emergency room visits in the US attributable to high blood pressure increased significantly, particularly among patients who had high blood pressure with no known cause.

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Among patients with hypertension in which the cause cannot be identified, emergency room visits increased by 25% in 2006-11.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is a major risk factor for stroke, heart attack and heart disease – the leading cause of death in the US. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), around 1 in 3 adults have high blood pressure.

There are often no symptoms from high blood pressure, earning it the title of the “silent killer.” As a result, around 1 in 5 adults are unaware they have high blood pressure and are at risk of serious heart problems.

High blood pressure can be attributed to other health conditions, such as diabetes. But unhealthy behaviors – such as drinking too much alcohol, smoking, lack of exercise and a diet high in sodium and low in potassium – are known to increase the risk of hypertension.

According to the lead researcher of this latest study, Dr. Sourabh Aggarwal, of the Department of Internal Medicine at Western Michigan University School of Medicine, their findings raise concerns, as they suggest that not enough is being done to control blood pressure in an outpatient environment. “We need better high blood pressure care in this setting,” Dr. Aggarwal adds.

To reach their findings, recently presented at the American Heart Association’s High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions 2014, the team analyzed data of around 3.9 million emergency room visits in the US between 2006 and 2011.

Fast facts about high blood pressure
  • In 2009, high blood pressure was the main or contributing cause of more than 348,000 deaths in the US
  • Only around 47% with high blood pressure have their condition under control
  • High blood pressure costs the US approximately $47.5 billion every year.

For each of these visits, high blood pressure was reported as the primary diagnosis.

Their analysis revealed that the number of emergency room (ER) visits for essential hypertension – high blood pressure that has no identifiable cause – increased by 25% over the 5-year period, while the number of ER visits for hypertension with complication and secondary hypertension – high blood pressure in which the cause can be identified – rose by 19%.

The team notes, however, that hospital admission for patients with secondary hypertension and hypertension with complication reduced by 12%, while the number of deaths among patients who were admitted dropped by 36%.

Dr. Aggarwal says the reduction in hospital admissions and deaths is likely to be down to the increased skill in high blood pressure treatment among hospital physicians. “But there is still a large unmet need for patients to have better help controlling their blood pressure in the outpatient setting,” he adds.

The researchers say that further studies are warranted to determine whether the rate of ER visits for hypertension is influenced by other factors, such as other medical conditions or gender.

Although the team did not monitor what caused patients in their analysis to visit the ER, they point out that the American Heart Association recommend that a person visits the hospital if their blood pressure is higher than 180/110 mm/Hg – a reading classified as a “hypertensive crisis.”

The organization also states that home monitoring, in combination with regular monitoring from a health care provider, can help control blood pressure. In a recent feature, Medical News Today reviewed a selection of home blood pressure monitors currently available to purchase.