Connection Between High Blood Pressure and Headaches

By Zina Semenovskaya, MD
Medically reviewed
November 11, 2021

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. 

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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:

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.

Medication

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.

Reduce stress

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:

  • 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.

Less caffeine

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

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.

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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

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?

Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can a hypertension headache feel like?
Headaches triggered by high blood pressure typically cause a pulsing sensation that’s felt all over the head rather than on just one side. If your headache is severe, happens suddenly, or is accompanied by chest pain or shortness of breath, get immediate medical attention. It could be a sign of a hypertensive crisis or another medical emergency.
Can low blood pressure cause headaches?
Low blood pressure (or hypotension) does not typically cause headaches, but it can. Other symptoms of low blood pressure include lightheadedness, fatigue, or no symptoms at all. There are also headaches known as low-pressure headaches, but this refers to decreased spinal fluid pressure and is not related to blood pressure.
What is the best way to get rid of a headache fast?
Many things may work quickly to resolve a headache: Lie down in a darker room, ease the pressure on your head by removing hair ties or clips, drink some water (since dehydration can sometimes cause head pain), consume a bit of caffeine, or take an OTC pain reliever such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), aspirin, ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve). If your headache is persistent or becomes more severe, or if you have associated symptoms like vision changes, neck pain, fever, dizziness, vomiting, or if you pass out, see a doctor right away.
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.

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Zina Semenovskaya, MD

Dr. Semenovskaya specializes in emergency medicine, and received her medical degree from Weill Cornell Medical College. She is currently the medical director at Remote Emergency Medicine Consulting, LLC and splits her time working clinically as an emergency medicine attending in California and Alaska. She is the first of our doctors to be fluent in Russian.