Treatment of acute severe hypertension: current and newer agents

Drugs. 2008;68(3):283-97. doi: 10.2165/00003495-200868030-00003.


Approximately 72 million people in the US experience hypertension. Worldwide, hypertension may affect as many as 1 billion people and be responsible for approximately 7.1 million deaths per year. It is estimated that approximately 1% of patients with hypertension will, at some point, develop a hypertensive crisis. Hypertensive crises are further defined as either hypertensive emergencies or urgencies, depending on the degree of blood pressure elevation and presence of end-organ damage. Immediate reduction in blood pressure is required only in patients with acute end-organ damage (i.e. hypertensive emergency) and requires treatment with a titratable, short-acting, intravenous antihypertensive agent, while severe hypertension without acute end-organ damage (i.e. hypertensive urgency) is usually treated with oral antihypertensive agents. The primary goal of intervention in a hypertensive crisis is to safely reduce blood pressure. The appropriate therapeutic approach of each patient will depend on their clinical presentation. Patients with hypertensive emergencies are best treated in an intensive care unit with titratable, intravenous, hypotensive agents. Rapid-acting intravenous antihypertensive agents are available, including labetalol, esmolol, fenoldopam, nicardipine and sodium nitroprusside. Newer agents, such as clevidipine and fenoldopam, may hold considerable advantages to other available agents in the management of hypertensive crises. Sodium nitroprusside is an extremely toxic drug and its use in the treatment of hypertensive emergencies should be avoided. Similarly, nifedipine, nitroglycerin and hydralazine should not to be considered first-line therapies in the management of hypertensive crises because these agents are associated with significant toxicities and/or adverse effects.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Acute Disease
  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists / therapeutic use
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors / therapeutic use
  • Antihypertensive Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Calcium Channel Blockers / therapeutic use
  • Diuretics / therapeutic use
  • Emergencies
  • Humans
  • Hypertension / classification
  • Hypertension / drug therapy*
  • Vasodilator Agents / therapeutic use


  • Adrenergic beta-Antagonists
  • Angiotensin-Converting Enzyme Inhibitors
  • Antihypertensive Agents
  • Calcium Channel Blockers
  • Diuretics
  • Vasodilator Agents