Because they can be so common, it can be hard to pin down the exact cause of a headache. Was it something you ate, stress from work, too little sleep, a medical condition you don’t know you have, or something else altogether?
While we can’t get into everything here, this article will focus on high blood pressure and headaches. There is a connection between the two, but it likely isn’t what you think. First I’ll explain what hypertension is. Then I’ll discuss if high blood pressure can cause headaches, as well as treatments for headaches and when to see a doctor about head pain.
What Is High Blood Pressure (Hypertension)?
To understand high blood pressure, you first need to understand blood pressure. Blood flows from the heart, carrying oxygen- and nutrient-rich blood vessels to every part of the body before returning to the heart to do it all over again.
Blood pressure is the measurement of how much force blood exerts on the walls of the blood vessels. It is measured in two numbers, read as, for example, “120 over 80” and written as 120/80 mm Hg. The first or top number is systolic blood pressure.
This represents the volume of pressure applied to the artery walls when the heart beats. The second or bottom number is diastolic blood pressure. This is the pressure between heart beats as blood returns to the heart.
Normal blood pressure for adults is less than 120/80 mm Hg. High blood pressure, or hypertension, is diagnosed when blood pressure readings are consistently above 130/80.
There are two stages of hypertension:
- Stage 1 hypertension: When blood pressure levels are above 130/80 but lower than 140/90 mm Hg.
- Stage 2 hypertension: When blood pressure is 140/90 mm Hg or higher.
If left untreated, high blood pressure can increase the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke. Lifestyle changes such as being more active, eating a healthier diet, and quitting smoking, as well as medication, can help lower high blood pressure.
Does High Blood Pressure Cause Headaches?
Most of the time, high blood pressure does not cause symptoms. The only case where hypertension appears to cause a headache is with a hypertensive crisis. This occurs when blood pressure soars to 180/120 mm Hg or higher.
Hypertensive crisis is a medical emergency, as it can lead to stroke, heart attack, kidney damage, memory loss, and other severe complications.
If your blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or higher, wait five minutes and take your blood pressure reading again.
If your blood pressure is still elevated but you don’t have any other symptoms, contact your healthcare provider for guidance.
However, if your blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or higher and you experience any of the below symptoms, seek emergency care immediately:
- Severe headache
- Blurred vision
- Chest pain
- Shortness of breath
- Nausea and vomiting
- Severe anxiety
Treatments for Headaches
There are many ways to treat headaches, from over-the-counter (OTC) medications to lifestyle changes to alternative therapies.
While the below are safe for an otherwise healthy person, it’s important not to self-diagnose the cause of frequent or chronic head pain.
A doctor can evaluate your symptoms, health history, and other factors to properly diagnose any underlying cause of your headaches and work with you to create a treatment plan.
Two main types of medications may help alleviate different headaches:
- OTC pain relievers: Acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve) may be used for headaches and mild migraines. But these should not be taken daily for long periods of time, as some can lead to problems like ulcers or other gastrointestinal complications.
- Beta-blocker drugs: For recurring migraines, doctors may prescribe blood pressure medication such as propranolol (Inderal, InnoPran). These can reduce the feelings of pressure in the head.
Stress may play a role in both headaches and migraines in adults.
While stress is an everyday part of life, finding ways to manage stress can help. Consider the following:
- Therapy: Some evidence suggests that cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) may help alleviate symptoms of headache or migraine. CBT teaches how to identify and challenge inaccurate thoughts, which may help manage stress.
- Relaxation techniques: Meditation appears promising for tension headaches and migraines, while aromatherapy with lavender essential oil may help reduce the severity of migraines. Both of these practices also help alleviate stress.
- Yoga: For many individuals, this mind-body practice leads to lower stress levels. And some evidence suggests that yoga also decreases tension headache frequency, duration, and intensity.
Although some caffeine is all right and may even have positive effects on headaches, too much caffeine may trigger migraines or headaches in some people. At the same time, caffeine withdrawal—which happens when you suddenly cut back or completely give up caffeine—may also cause head pain.
If you have frequent headaches, consider how much caffeine you consume on a daily basis from beverages like coffee, soda, and tea. If you suspect caffeine may be contributing to your headaches, gradually reduce your intake.
Other treatments for headaches include:
- Avoid or reduce alcohol intake
- Quit smoking
- Get regular physical activity
As a bonus, these things may also help manage high blood pressure.
When to See a Doctor
If you have frequent, persistent, or worsening headaches or migraines, speak with your doctor. An occasional headache could be blamed on tiredness, stress, or hunger, but frequent headaches may be a sign of an underlying health problem.
Your doctor will ask how and where you feel headache pain—whether it’s on one side of your head, both, or all around. They may also ask what time of day you typically get them, if there’s anything that seems to help, and if you have associated symptoms such as dizziness or blurry vision.
Communicating all these details to your healthcare provider will help ensure that you receive an effective treatment plan.
How K Health Can Help
K Health offers affordable and convenient access to highly qualified doctors to treat and manage high blood pressure, as long as you are not having a hypertensive crisis.
You can meet with your K Health doctor from the comfort of your own home via the K Health app, all while knowing that you’re getting individualized and expert care.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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