Purpose of review: Here, we review current concepts on hypertensive crisis (HTN-C) with a focus on epidemiology, causes, pathophysiology and prognosis. We also offer a practical approach to the management of HTN-C.
Recent findings: HTN-C is characterized by a severe and abrupt increase in blood pressure (BP) with impending or progressive acute end-organ damage (EOD). HTN-C can be divided into hypertensive emergency (HTN-E) and hypertensive urgency (HTN-U) based on the presence or absence of acute EOD, respectively. Recent retrospective studies have demonstrated that emergency department (ED) referrals from an outpatient clinic or rapid BP-lowering strategies in the ED do not lead to improved outcomes in patients with HTN-U.
Summary: HTN-C can be a de-novo manifestation or a complication of essential or secondary HTN. The presence of acute EOD is a major poor prognostic indicator in HTN-C. The main objectives of the management of HTN-C are distinction of HTN-E from HTN-U and appropriate risk stratification, prevention or regression of acute EOD due to severely elevated BP, prevention of recurrence of HTN-C with an effective long-term management plan and avoidance of rapid lowering of BP except in some special circumstances. The majority of patients with asymptomatic HTN-U can be safely managed in the outpatient setting without exposing them to the risks of aggressive BP lowering. However, patients with HTN-E require hospitalization, prompt treatment and close monitoring.