II. Epidemiology

  1. Incidence (U.S.)
    1. Outpatient: 4.6% (based on presenting Blood Pressure)
      1. Still uncontrolled in >60% of patients after 6 months (esp. due to noncompliance)
      2. Patel (2016) JAMA Intern Med 167(7): 981-88 [PubMed]
    2. Emergency Department: 4% are diagnosed with Severe Asymptomatic Hypertension
      1. McNaughton (2015) Am J Cardiol 116(11): 1717-23 [PubMed]
    3. Inpatients: 4.5% receive Intravenous Antihypertensives
      1. Weder (2010) J Clin Hypertens 12(1): 29-33 [PubMed]

IV. Symptoms

  1. Although termed "asymptomatic", mild symptoms may be present
    1. Contrast with the acute target organ injury symptoms related to Hypertensive Emergency or urgency
    2. See Severe Hypertension for Acute Severe Hypertension-Related Target Organ Injury Findings
  2. Mild symptoms
    1. Headache
    2. Light Headedness
    3. Nausea
    4. Dyspnea
    5. Palpitations
    6. Epistaxis
    7. Anxiousness
  3. Severe Symptoms or Target Organ Injury Symptoms
    1. See Hypertensive Emergency
    2. Red flag symptoms that suggest possible Hypertensive Emergency

VI. Diagnosis: Severe Uncontrolled Hypertension (Severe Asymptomatic Hypertension)

  1. Severe Hypertension (SBP>180, DBP>110) AND
  2. Asymptomatic patient with no signs of end-organ dysfunction
    1. No criteria met for Hypertensive Emergency or Hypertensive Urgency (see differential diagnosis below)

VII. Differential Diagnosis

  1. See Resistant Hypertension
  2. See Secondary Hypertension Causes
  3. See Severe Hypertension
  4. Hypertensive Emergency (Hypertensive Crisis)
    1. Rapid and progressive decompensation of vital organ function secondary to severely elevated Blood Pressure
    2. Acute life-threatening complications due to Severe Hypertension (acute Myocardial Infarction, Hemorrhagic CVA)
  5. Hypertensive Urgency
    1. Progressive end-organ damage risk factors (pre-existing CHF, Unstable Angina, Chronic Kidney Disease)
    2. Unlike Hypertensive Emergency there is no evidence of new injury secondary to Severe Hypertension

VIII. Labs

  1. See Hypertension Evaluation Labs
  2. In the asymptomatic patient, with known Hypertension, labs may be deferred to continued outpatient management
    1. Hypertension Evaluation Labs may be indicated on ambulatory follow-up
  3. Diagnostics are rarely needed on an emergency basis in Severe Asymptomatic Hypertension
    1. Caveats
      1. Significant symptoms should prompt full Hypertensive Emergency evaluation and management
      2. May consider diagnostics for specific mild symptoms possibly due to Severe Hypertension
    2. ACEP does not recommend routine diagnostic testing in Severe Asymptomatic Hypertension
      1. Wolf (2013) Ann Emerg Med 62(1): 59-68 [PubMed]
    3. Diagnostic testing is abnormal in <5% of Severe Asymptomatic Hypertension
      1. Patel (2016) JAMA Intern Med 176(7): 981-88 [PubMed]
    4. Electrocardiogram (EKG) may be abnormal (e.g. Left Ventricular Hypertrophy with Strain Pattern)
      1. However, EKG changes in an asymptomatic patient may beget additional unnecessary management

IX. Evaluation

X. Management

  1. Indications
    1. Inpatient, outpatient and emergency department patients with Severe Asymptomatic Hypertension
  2. Precautions
    1. Exclude Hypertensive Emergency and Hypertensive Urgency
      1. Based on history and exam (see evaluation above)
      2. See Hypertensive Emergency for complete evaluation and management
    2. Severe Asymptomatic Hypertension Inpatient management indications (rare)
      1. Indicated for escalating Hypertension, progressive symptoms
    3. Avoid aggressively lowering Blood Pressure
      1. See Severe Hypertension for risk of adverse events with rapid Blood Pressure lowering
      2. Focus on the patient's symptoms and signs, rather than the specific Blood Pressure numbers
      3. Acutely lowering of Blood Pressure in Asymptomatic Hypertension does not improve cardiovascular outcomes
      4. Adding Antihypertensives in hospitalized older adults with Asymptomatic Hypertension risks complications
        1. Acute Kidney Injury
        2. Hypotension
        3. Increased Fall Risk
        4. Readmission rates
  3. Address secondary causes of acute Blood Pressure elevations
    1. See Secondary Hypertension Causes
    2. See Nonpharmacologic Management of Hypertension
    3. Consider Medication Noncompliance or missed medication doses
    4. Consider Alcohol Withdrawal and Substance Abuse
    5. Manage acute pain and other conditions secondarily raising Blood Pressure
    6. Emergency department Blood Pressures are frequently >180 to 200 mmHg on presentation
      1. These Blood Pressures typically improve during the encounter
      2. Pain and anxiety contribute to Blood Pressure elevations
  4. Start oral Antihypertensive (or restart, adjust anti-hypertensives patient is already taking)
    1. See Antihypertensive Selection
    2. See Hypertension Management for Specific Comorbid Diseases
    3. See Hypertension Management for Specific Populations
    4. Approach
      1. Ideally, elevated systolic Blood Pressure is confirmed on 3 different outpatient readings
      2. Patients without significant comorbidity may be referred to clinic for BP medication start
      3. First, maximize medications the patient is already taking (and confirm their compliance)
    5. Indications to start Antihypertensives
      1. Persistent systolic Blood Pressure >180 mmHg
        1. In hospitalized patients, persistent Severe Hypertension >2 to 4 hours
      2. Systolic Blood Pressure >160/110 mmHg AND
        1. Age >60 years old OR Comorbidity (e.g. Diabetes Mellitus, CAD, CKD)
    6. Medications with activity onset over days (but better for longterm use)
      1. Lisinopril 10 mg orally once daily (recheck Serum Creatinine, Potassium in 10 days)
      2. Losartan 50 mg orally once daily (recheck Serum Creatinine, Potassium in 10 days)
      3. Metoprolol Succinate 25-50 mg orally daily
      4. Amlodipine 2.5 to 5 mg orally once daily
      5. Hydrochlorothiazide 12.5 to 25 mg orally once daily
    7. Medications with activity onset over hours (but less ideal for longterm tolerance)
      1. Avoid these agents in general for prn medications (higher risk of abrupt, rapid Blood Pressure drops)
      2. Labetalol 100 mg orally twice daily
      3. Clonidine 0.1 to 0.2 mg orally twice daily
      4. Prazosin 1-2 mg orally twice daily
      5. Diltiazem 30 mg orally four times daily
      6. Captopril 25 mg orally two to three times daily
  5. Follow-up 1 week
    1. May delay follow-up to 2-4 weeks if no symptoms and adjusting medications in established Hypertension
    2. Readdress Blood Pressure medications at Transitions of Care visits (e.g. hospital or ED discharge)

XI. Prognosis

  1. Shortterm serious adverse effects of Severe Asymptomatic Hypertension are rare (even over months of follow-up)
    1. Outpatient management (from the clinic) is safe and effective
    2. Emergency management, diagnostics, Intravenous Antihypertensives are not needed in asymptomatic patients
    3. Nakprasert (2016) Am J Emerg Med 34(5): 834-9 [PubMed]
    4. Patel (2016) JAMA Intern Med 167(7): 981-88 [PubMed]
  2. Longterm serious adverse effects of Hypertension are well established
    1. See Hypertension
    2. Appropriate consistent chronic management is important

XII. References

  1. (2023) Presc Lett 30(12): 67-8
  2. Swaminathan and Mattu in Herbert (2020) EM:Rap 20(7): 3-4
  3. Gauer (2017) Am Fam Physician 95(8): 492-500 [PubMed]

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