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Malignant hypertension

Definition

Malignant hypertension is very high blood pressure that comes on suddenly and quickly.

Alternative Names

Accelerated hypertension; Arteriolar nephrosclerosis; Nephrosclerosis - arteriolar; Hypertension - malignant; High blood pressure - malignant

Causes

The disorder affects a small number of people with high blood pressure, including children and adults. It is more common in younger adults, especially African American men.

It also occurs in people with:

  • Collagen vascular disorders (such as systemic lupus erythematosus, systemic sclerosis, and periarteritis nodosa)
  • Kidney problems
  • Pregnancy-induced high blood pressure (toxemia)

You are at high risk for malignant hypertension if you have had:

Symptoms

Symptoms of malignant hypertension include:

Exams and Tests

Malignant hypertension is a medical emergency.

A physical exam commonly shows:

  • Extremely high blood pressure
  • Swelling in the lower legs and feet
  • Abnormal heart sounds and fluid in the lungs
  • Changes in thinking, sensation, and reflexes

An eye examination will reveal changes that indicate high blood pressure, including:

  • Bleeding of the retina (back part of the eye)
  • Narrowing of the blood vessels in the retina
  • Swelling of the optic nerve
  • Other problems with the retina

Kidney failure, as well as other complications, may develop.

Tests to determine damage to the kidneys may include:

A chest x-ray may show congestion in the lungs and an enlarged heart.

This disease may also affect the results of these tests:

Treatment

You will need to stay in the hospital until your severe high blood pressure is under control. You will receive medicines through a vein (IV) to reduce your blood pressure.

If there is fluid in your lungs, you will be given medicines called diuretics, which help the body remove fluid. Your doctor may give you medicines to protect your heart if you have signs of heart damage.

After your severe high blood pressure is under control, blood pressure medicines taken by mouth can control blood pressure. Your medicine may need to be changed sometimes. High blood pressure can be difficult to control.

Outlook (Prognosis)

Many body systems are at serious risk from the extreme rise in blood pressure. Organs including the brain, eyes, blood vessels, heart, and kidneys may be damaged.

The blood vessels of the kidney are very likely to be damaged by high blood pressure. Kidney failure may develop, which may be permanent. If this happens, you may need dialysis (machine that removes waste products from blood).

If treated right away, malignant hypertension can often be controlled without causing permanent problems. If it is not treated right away, complications may be severe and life-threatening.

Possible Complications

These complications may occur:

  • Brain damage (stroke, seizures)
  • Heart damage, including: heart attack, angina (chest pain due to narrowed blood vessels or weakened heart muscle), heart rhythm disturbances
  • Kidney failure
  • Permanent blindness
  • Fluid in the lungs

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Go to the emergency room or call your local emergency number (such as 911) if you have symptoms of malignant hypertension. This is an emergency condition that can be life-threatening.

Call your health care provider if you know you have poorly controlled high blood pressure.

Prevention

If you have high blood pressure, carefully monitor your blood pressure and take your medicines properly to help reduce your risk. Eat a healthy diet that is low in salt and fat.

References

Badr KF, Brenner BM. Vascular injury to the kidney. In: Fauci A , Kasper D, Longo DL, et al, eds. Harrison's Principals of Internal Medicine. 17th ed. New York, NY: McGraw Hill; 2008:chap 280.

Linas SL. Hypertensive crisis: emergency and urgency. In: Vincent J-L, Abraham E, Moore FA, Kochanek PM, Fink MP, eds. Textbook of Critical Care. 6th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2011:chap 88.

Shayne P, Lynch CA. Hypertensive crisis. In: Adams JG, ed. Emergency Medicine: Clinical Essentials. 2nd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2013:chap 69.

Shayne P, Stettner E. Hypertension. In: Wolfson AB, Hendey GW, Ling LJ, et al, eds. Harwood-Nuss' Clinical Practice of Emergency Medicine. 5th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2009:chap 89.


Review Date: 5/19/2015
Reviewed By: Charles Silberberg, DO, private practice specializing in Nephrology, Affiliated with New York Medical College, Division of Nephrology, Valhalla, NY. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.
The information provided herein should not be used during any medical emergency or for the diagnosis or treatment of any medical condition. A licensed medical professional should be consulted for diagnosis and treatment of any and all medical conditions. Call 911 for all medical emergencies. Links to other sites are provided for information only -- they do not constitute endorsements of those other sites. © 1997- A.D.A.M., Inc. Any duplication or distribution of the information contained herein is strictly prohibited.
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