Normally, you want to keep your blood pressure within a healthy range, which is less than 120 mm Hg systolic and 80 mm Hg diastolic. Systolic is the top number in a reading, measured in millimeters of mercury, indicating the blood pressure during your heart's contractions. Diastolic is the bottom number, indicating the blood pressure during your heart's relaxations. Any higher than 120 over 80 and you start moving into the stage of prehypertension and hypertension.
While high blood pressure alone can bring about a great deal of problems, it can also put you at risk of a hypertensive crisis, which is essentially an extreme, sometimes sudden escalation in your blood pressure to an often life-threatening level. And though this event is always a cause for alarm, it can be broken out into two separate categories, one more serious than the other.
The first of the two categories of a hypertensive crisis is a hypertensive urgency. Often referred to as an urgent hypertensive crisis, this event isn't as serious as a hypertensive emergency, but immediate treatment is quite necessary. If you are suffering from an urgent hypertensive crisis, your systolic blood pressure has reached over 180 mm Hg or your diastolic blood pressure has risen above 120 mm Hg.
The second of the two categories of a hypertensive crisis is a hypertensive emergency, more commonly known as an emergency hypertensive crisis. In this case, your systolic blood pressure has risen above the same levels as a hypertensive urgency. But unlike an urgent hypertensive crisis, this event has caused some level of damage to one or more of your internal organs.
Both conditions bring with them the same basic symptoms. A shortness of breath is one of the most common, which can leave you feeling winded and exhausted, but you may also begin to suffer from more nonspecific signs, such as severe headaches and a sudden feeling of anxiety, worry or nervousness.
Though a hypertensive urgency may not share the same complications as a hypertensive emergency, there is still the potential that it could progress into an emergency and cause damage to your organs. Either condition can eventually lead to seizures, pulmonary edema, aortic dissection, swelling in the brain, kidney failure, stroke and heart attack.
With both an urgent and emergency hypertensive crisis, treatment is necessary to remedy the condition. This usually entails hospitalization, so that your condition can be better monitored and complications can be minimized. From there, the approach to care is often dictated by the type of emergency, but your blood pressure will always need to be brought down to a relatively safe range. This could be done with the intravenous or oral administration of a vasodilator, alpha-beta blocker or calcium channel blocker.