Hypertensive emergency: I nearly had a stroke!

2017_Sfigmomanometr_elektroniczny.jpgAbove: an electronic Sphygmomanometer for reading blood pressure (Photo by Jacek Halicki Creative Commons).

By Warren Heggarty

My doctor first diagnosed high blood pressure when I was 27. I had all the risk factors for heart attack back then, heavy smoking, heavy drinking, poor diet, no exercise, high cholesterol and constant anxiety. 

I was put on medication which caused such awful constipation that I couldn’t stand it, so after three or four years, I stopped taking it. Over the years, doctors kept pestering me about blood pressure but it was not my priority.  

With OCD I was more anxious about the strange thoughts entering my head than the actual illness in my body! 

When I was 53 I was told that my blood pressure was well over the danger level and I could have a stroke. I dismissed it as usual but the doctor said she was thinking of putting me in hospital. Only then did I agree to restart medication, this time on a drug that did not cause bad constipation. My blood pressure returned to normal within a week. 

Some months later, I realised that I had not had any bad headaches for quite a while. Although high blood pressure normally has no symptoms, hypertensive emergency can be accompanied by bad headaches and can be a precursor to stroke or heart attack. As in my case, it is often very easy to fix. 

‘Hypertensive emergency’ 


What is blood pressure?

The heart is a pump. Blood pressure measures the force of the heart pumping blood through your blood vessels. Two measurements are taken.  The higher number, the systolic, shows the pressure when your heart muscle contracts. The lower number, the diastolic, is the pressure when your heart muscle relaxes.

Blood pressure is always changing and there is no one ‘right’ score. Your doctor  will be able to see if your score is within a healthy range. Very high readings can be signs of danger. Very low readings can be signs of trouble, too.

What causes high blood pressure (Hypertension)?

Being overweight, eating too much salt, not getting enough exercise, too much alcohol, smoking, kidney disease, high cholesterol, heredity.

What can untreated high blood pressure do to you?

According to the ccCCHiP Blood Pressure Information Booklet, ‘Over time, high blood pressure can kill you.’ It can cause heart attack, heart failure, strokes and kidney failure.

What does it feel like having high blood pressure?

‘The problem is that you can’t feel high blood pressure. So many people don’t know they are sich until they get their blood pressure checked.’ Doctors and nurses measure your blood pressure using a sphygmomanometer, which is an inflatable band that is put around your arm and pumped up for a few seconds.

What can you do to lower your blood pressure naturally?

Avoid eating too much salt, lose weight if you are overweight, stop smoking, drink less alcohol, do plenty of exercise. Sometimes you can do all of these things and STILL have high blood pressure. In this case your doctor can prescribe medication. (ccCHiP)

What about low blood pressure (Hypotension)?

Sometimes you can have too much of a good thing. Where persistently low blood pressure is accompanied by other signs of trouble such as dizziness and fainting, your doctor will need to investigate. Pregnancy, prolonged bed rest, serious infection and injury can be causes (American Heart Association, 2016)


American Heart Association . (2016, October). Low Blood Pressure – when blood pressure is too low. Retrieved from American Heart Association – Conditions:


ccCHiP. (n.d.). Blood Pressure Information Booklet. Retrieved October 19, 2017, from Collaborative Centre for Cardiometabolic Health in Psychosis: www.ccchip.com.au

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