Subtle Symptoms Of High Blood Pressure

Over 80 million Americans have high blood pressure, and 16 million of them do not even know that they have it. Oftentimes, hypertension shows few symptoms. That doesn’t mean they don’t exist, and you can learn these signs to pinpoint them early. From fatigue to chest pain to excessive sweating, here are the signs of high blood pressure that you should note.

Shortness Of Breath

A woman rests against a tree while she catches her breath from jogging.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

According to Michigan Health, shortness of breath is usually the first noticeable sign of hypertension. Cardiovascular expert Dr. Vallerie McLaughlin explains that high blood pressure strains the right side of the heart. When the heart struggles to push blood, the body receives less oxygen.

Many hypertension patients experience shortness of breath after climbing stairs, jogging, or other light exercises. The severity of the symptom differs. Despite breathlessness being a common sign of hypertension, many people misdiagnose this symptom, often testing the heart instead of blood pressure.

Fatigue

A woman fell asleep on the train.
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Abbie Bernet/Unsplash

High blood pressure can make people feel fatigued. According to Dr. Guy L. Mintz, the director of cardiovascular health & lipidology at the Sandra Atlas Bass Heart Hospital, this is common. The higher your blood pressure, the more your heart has to work, which tires out the body.

In 2009, a study in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that fatigue is closely related to heart function. People with heart conditions (which sometimes stem from high blood pressure) have more struggles with fatigue. In addition, certain blood pressure medications can cause tiredness.

Facial Flushing

A close-up shows a woman's red cheeks.
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When a person’s face flushes from emotion or exercise, this is often because of an increase in blood pressure. The blood vessels in the face dilate, making a person appear red. Knowing this, it’s easy to see why hypertension causes flushing.

In 2013, researchers found another possible symptom of hypertension. They tested people who flushed after drinking. During the study, the researchers noticed that “flushers” were more likely to have high blood pressure than people who did not flush. This symptom is not a guarantee for hypertension, but it can happen.

Red Spots In The Eyes

A woman has bloodshot eyes.
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Joe Raedle/Getty Images

Over time, high blood pressure can damage the blood vessels in the eyes. These blood vessels might become dilated or damaged, which creates bloodshot eyes, explains optometrist Dr. William White.

Red spots in the eye can occur from momentary spikes in blood pressure, such as when you lift a heavy object or sneeze. But hypertension might create frequent red spots or even bloodshot eyes. Your vision might not be damaged, but the blood vessels are. If these spots continuously appear for two weeks, consult a doctor.

More Back Pain…Or Less

In this illustration, a man clutches his back in pain.
mohamed_hassan/Pixabay
mohamed_hassan/Pixabay

Although this is not common, back pain can be a symptom of hypertension in some cases. According to Michigan Medicine, high blood pressure might prompt a feeling of pressure or pain in your back. It could happen in the lower, middle, or upper back, and even the neck.

In 2015, a Korean study found that the opposite was true. When participants’ blood pressure heightened, they felt less lower back pain. Researchers suggest that this could be due to hypalgesia, a lower sensitivity to pain that appears in some hypertension patients.

Excessive Sweating

A man has sweat on his face.
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Nathan Dumlao/Unsplash

People with high blood pressure are more likely to experience excessive sweating. According to Medical News Today, this is because the heart is exerting itself. When the body feels overworked, it releases adrenaline and noradrenaline, two hormones that trigger sweating to cool the body.

Ironically, sweating from exercise might also help blood pressure. In 2019, the British Journal of Sports Medicine released research that concluded that sweaty workouts improve blood pressure. But if you are excessively sweating without heat, exercise, or medications, talk to a medical professional.

Swelling In Ankles

A woman rubs her ankle.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

As blood pressure rises, the heart struggles to pump blood throughout the body. This can affect the areas farthest from the heart, such as the feet. According to Blood Pressure UK, Hypertension can cause fluid buildup in the ankles, which makes them swell.

Some blood pressure medications, such as calcium-blockers, can also create this side effect. But if it is not caused by medication, you might want to get your ankles checked. This symptom might also be a sign of kidney failure, heart disease, or another ailment.

Chest Pain

In this graphic, a man experiences chest pain and a heartbeat monitor appears behind him.
mohamed_hassan/Pixabay
mohamed_hassan/Pixabay

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reports that chest pain, also called angina, is a symptom of high blood pressure. Hypertension strains blood vessels, which makes the heart work harder to pump oxygen. This can cause periodic chest pain.

Preventive cardiologist Luke J. Laffin advises people to seek medical attention if their chest pain lasts for longer than three minutes. It might not be stabbing pain; it could be intense pressure in your chest. If angina accompanies nausea, breathlessness, fatigue, or a cold sweat, consult a doctor.

Blurred Vision

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Jessi Pena/Unsplash

Eyesight could be an indicator of your blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can blur peoples’ vision or even permanently destroy it. This is called hypertensive retinopathy.

According to Ada, hypertensive retinopathy occurs when high blood pressure damages the tissues and blood vessels in the back of the eye. Patients might receive cloudy vision, double vision, or headaches. In the late stages of hypertension, they might even lose vision. These vision problems only go away when the patient gets their hypertension under control, says Pennachio Eye.

Headaches Are Rare, But Possible

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According to the American Heart Association, headaches resulting from high blood pressure are rare. They usually occur during a hypertensive crisis, a medical emergency when blood pressure reaches 180/120 mm Hg or higher.

That said, blood pressure headaches can occur outside of an emergency. The Iranian Journal of Neurology says that blood pressure can compress the head, causing pain. For hypertension patients, this can happen during or after exercise. But a 2016 study in the American Journal of Hypertension found that this is rare, too.

Pounding In Ears Or Neck

A woman clutches her ear in pain.
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BSIP/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)

People with high blood pressure tend to experience pulsing or pounding in their ears. This pounding is actually your heartbeat, it can result from disordered blood flow through the carotid artery, according to Harvard Health Publishing.

National Jewish Health mentions that this pulsing sensation might also occur in your neck or chest. This symptom can have other causes as well, such as drinking too much caffeine. If the pounding sensation continues along with other symptoms on this list, or if you have a family history of hypertension, consult a doctor.

Struggling To Fall Asleep

A woman with insomnia sits up awake at night.
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Tara Walton/Toronto Star via Getty Images

People with high blood pressure have a higher risk of developing insomnia. In 2010, scientists noticed that hypertension patients have raised blood pressure during sleep. This raises the heartbeat, which can prevent people from falling asleep and cause them to wake up at night.

And the relationship goes both ways. A later study in the journal Hypertension noticed that insomnia heightens the risk of hypertension. People who get less sleep are more likely to have raised blood pressure, possibly because the heart does get to rest as much.

Dizziness And Fainting Spells

A woman in a chair feels faint.
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Edward Steichen/Condé Nast via Getty Images

People with high blood pressure might experience dizziness, sometimes so intense that it causes fainting spells. According to the Texas Heart Institute, hypertension hardens the arteries, inhibiting oxygen from reaching the brain. This is why people might feel faint. Ironically, drugs made to control high blood pressure can also make people dizzy, says the Mayo Clinic.

Harvard Health explains that fainting usually results from a temporary drop in blood pressure. However, if it accompanies shortness of breath, chest pain, or heart palpitations, consult a medical professional.

Hot Flashes

A tennis player wipes sweat off her brow.
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GREG WOOD/AFP via Getty Images

Hot flashes can occur in people with hypertension, especially in women. In 2012, researchers tested the blood pressure of menopausal women. They noticed that hypertension increased when a hot flash occurred.

Harvard Health adds that hot flashes can occur with poor heart health. A 2019 study discovered that 85% of women experience hot flashes during menopause, which can make it difficult to distinguish between menopause and hypertension symptoms. If hot flashes accompany other hypertension symptoms, such as fatigue, shortness of breath, or dizziness, consult a professional.

An Irregular Heartbeat

A machine measures a person's pulse.
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PublicDomainPictures/Pixabay

An arrhythmia occurs when the heart beats irregularly. This is a common sign of hypertension as the heart works harder to pump blood. According to the American Heart Association, people with high blood pressure are at a high risk of arrhythmia.

These two conditions are directly correlated. In May 2020, a study examined over 8,000 participants with hypertension. The researchers concluded that treating blood pressure can also stabilize a person’s heartbeat. If not managed, an irregular heartbeat might increase your chance of stroke, heart disease, or blood clots.

Nosebleeds

A woman presses a tissue to her nose.
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Christina Sabrowsky/picture alliance via Getty Images

In rare cases, people with high blood pressure might get spontaneous nosebleeds. In September 2020, Korean researchers discovered that people with hypertension are 47% more likely to get nosebleeds than healthy people. And when they get nosebleeds, there is more bleeding.

Researchers are still not sure why hypertension causes nosebleeds. Some theorize that the bleeding results from chronic damage to blood vessels in the nose. If nosebleeds do not come from dryness, surgery, dehydration, injury, or illness, they might be a sign of a larger disease.

Blood In Urine

A woman gets her blood pressure measured.
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Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

Macroscopic hematuria, a condition that causes visible blood in urine, often results from kidney troubles. But it might also be a sign of high blood pressure. In April 2020, research in the journal Medicine noted that hypertension patients have a higher chance of developing hematuria.

This is because high blood pressure directly affects the kidneys. As blood pressure rises, it might damage or rupture blood vessels inside the kidneys, which causes bloody urine. The first time you notice unusual blood in urine, talk to your doctor.

Persistent Nausea

A man with nausea places his head in his hands.
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Trần Toàn/Unsplash

High blood pressure rarely causes nausea, but it can happen. According to eMedicine Health, it happens because the blood vessels in the stomach and digestive system become strained or damaged. This might result in persistent nausea or abdominal pain.

Nausea and vomiting might also occur during a hypertensive crisis. When blood pressure rises dangerously high, it can make people feel physically ill, according to the Bosnian research journal Materia Sociomedica. Although nausea and stomach pain are rare hypertension symptoms, they might also be the most noticeable.

Confusion

A woman holds her hands to her head.
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Universal Images Group via Getty Images

In some cases, hypertension might cause some delirium, leaving people confused and feeling off-balance. This is rare, but it can happen when blood vessel damage harms the brain, according to Oxford Medicine Online.

Confusion most often occurs during malignant hypertension, otherwise known as a high blood pressure emergency. This could happen suddenly for any number of reasons. One reason might be hypertensive encephalopathy when raised blood pressure causes the brain to function poorly. If delirium accompanies headache, nausea, shortness of breath, or loss of balance, seek medical help.

Bluish Lips

A woman in the dark wears blue lipstick.
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Julian Florez/Unsplash

When blood pressure increases, it limits the amount of oxygen flow in the body. This can turn your lips blue, says the National Health Service. Blue skin or lips, also called cyanosis, occurs when your body is not getting enough oxygen.

Patients not only observe blue skin in the lips, but also the nails, ears, gums, or tongue. If the skin suddenly turns blue or grey and is accompanied by chest pain or difficulty breathing, seek medical help. It might be a sign of heart or respiratory distress.