Generally, high blood pressure does not cause any symptoms. If a person does experience symptoms, they may include headaches, dizziness, and sleep issues.

Blood pressure is the force of the blood against the walls of the arteries as it goes around a person’s body. Sometimes, it can become too high, which can be dangerous.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), nearly half of all adults in the United States have high blood pressure (hypertension).

In this article, we explore the myths surrounding high blood pressure symptoms. We also discuss when to see a doctor and how to manage hypertension.

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Most of the time, high blood pressure has no symptoms. It is known as the silent killer.

Symptoms people may think are due to high blood pressure include:

However, these symptoms may not be due to high blood pressure, and anyone experiencing them should speak to a doctor as they may also be signs of other health conditions or side effects of medications.

Measuring blood pressure

People cannot rely on only physical symptoms to alert them of high blood pressure. To diagnose or monitor hypertension, a person should measure their blood pressure regularly.

A person can measure their blood pressure at home.

Blood pressure readings are in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg). The top number (systolic) indicates the pressure in the arteries as the heart beats. The lower number (diastolic) indicates the pressure as the heart rests between beats.

As long as a person measures their blood pressure correctly, the results are just as reliable as a doctor’s measurement.

The following table from the American Heart Association (AHA) shows the classification of high blood pressure in adults:

Normal blood pressureElevated blood pressureStage 1 hypertensionStage 2 hypertensionHypertensive crisis
Systolic blood pressureless than 120 mm Hg120–129 mm Hg130–139 mm Hg140 mm Hg or higher180 mm Hg or higher
Diastolic blood pressureless than 80 mm Hgless than 80 mm Hg80–89 mm Hg90 mm Hg or higher120 mm Hg or higher

Learn more about how to understand blood pressure readings here.

Researchers have shown a clear relationship between higher systolic and diastolic blood pressure and increased risk of cardiovascular disease.

In an analysis of 61 studies, researchers found that a 20 mm Hg higher systolic and a 10 mm Hg higher diastolic blood pressure were each associated with a doubling of the risk of:

Another older study, including 1.25 million participants, showed that higher blood pressure had associations with:

Although high blood pressure does not usually cause symptoms, anyone experiencing a sudden, severe headache or nosebleed should check their blood pressure.

If their blood pressure is above 180/120 mm Hg, they should stay rested for five minutes and recheck their blood pressure. If the blood pressure is still higher than 180/120 mm Hg, they need to seek medical help at their doctor’s office.

If a person is experiencing severe symptoms, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or visual difficulty, they need to call 911 for emergency medical treatment as they may be experiencing a hypertensive crisis.

Medications to reduce blood pressure can cause side effects such as dizziness. If this side effect does not go away or affects a person’s daily activities, they should speak with their family doctor.

Genetics

According to the CDC, high blood pressure can be affected by genetics.

A 2020 study suggests a person’s chance of inheriting high blood pressure is roughly 24–30%.

Lifestyle factors

The following environmental factors may influence a person’s blood pressure:

  • Excessive salt intake: The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) recommends that people consume no more than 2.3 grams (g) of sodium per day.
  • Low potassium intake: Potassium helps the body remove sodium. The AHA recommends a person consume 3,400 milligrams (mg) per day for men and 2,600 mg for women.
  • Weight: According to a 2023 review and meta analysis, weight loss in people with overweight results in lower blood pressure compared to not losing weight. On average, systolic blood pressure decreased by about 2.6 mmHg after 6-12 months of weight loss, while diastolic blood pressure decreased by about 2.0 mmHg.
  • Exercise: Both aerobic and resistance exercises are proven to reduce blood pressure.

Since there is a strong connection between environmental factors and blood pressure, healthcare professionals have been promoting hypertension prevention.

The AHA recommends:

A healthy diet for the heart consists of eating:

People who follow a healthy diet to prevent hypertension and cardiovascular disease should also avoid or limit:

People who eat well, stop smoking, lower their stress, and exercise regularly may see benefits in their general health.

The DASH diet (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) may be beneficial in helping to prevent or treat high blood pressure.

Learn more about the DASH diet here.

Below are some commonly asked questions about what high blood pressure feels like.

How does a person feel when their blood pressure is high?

Generally speaking, a person with high blood pressure will not feel any different or experience symptoms.

However, in rare cases, when a person’s blood pressure is dangerously high, it can cause symptoms like difficulty breathing, a severe headache, and chest pain.

This is known as a hypertensive crisis and can lead to a medical emergency, so a person must seek immediate care.

What are the symptoms of very high blood pressure?

When a person experiences sudden, very high blood pressure, with readings of 180/120 mm Hg or greater, this is known as a hypertensive crisis.

The symptoms of this include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • back pain
  • weakness
  • confusion
  • dizziness
  • vomiting

If a person is experiencing these symptoms, they should call 911.

What hurts when you have high blood pressure?

High blood pressure itself typically doesn’t cause pain. In fact, it’s often called the “silent killer” because it can damage a person’s body without causing noticeable symptoms.

However, high blood pressure can lead to complications that can hurt, such as a severe headache and pain in the abdomen, chest, or back.

Doctors and health professionals often refer to high blood pressure as a silent killer, and it is a risk factor associated with cardiovascular disease.

People who have high blood pressure may not experience any physical symptoms and may not be aware that their blood pressure is high.

During a hypertensive crisis, people with a blood pressure above 180/120 mm Hg may experience symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, blurry vision, headache, or nosebleed.

People experiencing a hypertensive crisis require emergency medical attention.

The most reliable way to detect high blood pressure is by regularly checking blood pressure measurements.