Hypertension headache: How to identify if high blood pressure is the cause

hypertension headacheMore than 410,000 Americans died from high blood pressure complications in 2014, attributing to more than 1,100 deaths per day.

High blood pressure can also lead to a condition called hypertension headache. Often occurring in episodes, headaches due to high blood pressure are typically quite severe and occur when blood pressure is 200/100 or higher. Blood pressure reaching these heights can develop into malignant hypertension: a medical emergency.


Hypertension, or high blood pressure, affects about 75 million Americans today—roughly one in three adults. Blood pressure is exerted against the walls of your arteries, which carry blood from your heart to the other parts of the body. Blood pressure is a dynamic measurement, having high and low fluctuations throughout the day. Generally, there is a small range where blood pressure is considered optimal.

Those who have high blood pressure exceeding the normal range are exposed to constant levels of damaging force on their blood vessels. Over time, high blood pressure can put you at risk for heart disease and stroke.

How does high blood pressure cause headaches?

Pain levels depend on how high someone’s blood pressure is. Hypertension headaches may range from mild to severe and are regulated by how much blood is reaching the brain. During times of high blood pressure, blood vessels running through the tissue under the skull constrict or tighten, leading to headache development.

It is also possible for blood pressure medication to cause headaches. Checking blood pressure during headaches can be a good indicator of whether it is caused by abnormal blood pressure levels.

Some medical professionals believe that having a headache due to high blood pressure is a sign of a hypertensive crisis, which is when blood pressure spikes to critical levels.

Identifying hypertension headaches

People with uncontrolled hypertension are usually the ones getting these types of headaches. Hypertension is a silent disease, not having many obvious signs and symptoms. A characteristic feature of a hypertension headache is a feeling of pressure behind the eyes, which may or may not be accompanied by a feeling of dizziness. Affected patients may also feel palpitation or irregular heartbeats. Other symptoms include nervousness, short of breath, and fatigue.

Hypertension headaches are often experienced in the mornings. Pain is usually felt near the posterior region of the head.

Additional signs of hypertension headaches include:

  • Facial pain
  • Sinus pressure
  • Visual distortions including auras, floaters, blurry vision, light sensitivity
  • Dizziness, vertigo
  • Buzzing in the ear
  • Nausea/vomiting
  • Irregular heartbeat

It is very important for those with hypertension to constantly monitor themselves for any signs of high blood pressure. Keeping blood pressuring within the optimal range will help sufferers manage symptoms and live a healthy and comfortable life.

Risk factors of a hypertension headache:

  • Women tend to be more at risk
  • Obesity and other physiologic conditions like pregnancy
  • Over the age of 50
  • Increased stress levels

How to prevent and treat hypertension headaches

The following are some things you can do to help prevent and treat a headache that is caused by high blood pressure:

Dietary and lifestyle changes

  • Decrease your salt intake. Excess levels of salt can increase blood pressure.
  • Reduce the consumption of unsaturated fats, especially red meat. These foods contribute to high blood pressure levels.
  • Lose weight. Excess weight can increase blood pressure.
  • Boost your metabolism. This helps to increase blood circulation and reduce high blood pressure risk.
  • Minimize stress. A contributing factor for the development of high blood pressure and increased frequency of hypertension headaches.


Making changes to how you live can be difficult. But by starting with only minor changes—such as losing a pound a week or just being more aware how much salt is in the food you eat—you will be on the right track to making sure your blood pressure is under control.

However, not all aspects of health are within our control and there may be a time when the care of a trained medical professional will be required. There are great anti-hypertensive medications available that do a great job at keeping blood pressure normal.

Related: Essential oils for migraines and headaches

Author Bio

Emily Lunardo studied medical sociology at York University with a strong focus on the social determinants of health and mental illness. She is a registered Zumba instructor, as well as a Canfit Pro trainer, who teaches fitness classes on a weekly basis. Emily practices healthy habits in her own life as well as helps others with their own personal health goals. Emily joined Bel Marra Health as a health writer in 2013.



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