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Can High Blood Pressure Cause Migraines

by Kristin Beck

Can High Blood Pressure Cause Migraines

“In our modern society, we are often faced with headaches that don’t fit into any of the categories we’ve learned to expect from them — migraines included. Some people experience frequent headaches that come and go without warning; others develop chronic conditions like cluster headaches and tension-type headaches. But what if your headache has none of those characteristics? What if it doesn’t even seem to be related to stress or fatigue? Could it be something else entirely?
It turns out that very high blood pressure can cause headache, but it does not have the same origin as migraine. The mechanism behind this type of headache is different than what’s responsible for other types of headaches. Blood pressure headache is usually associated with a hypertensive crisis, such as hypertensive emergency or urgency. This occurs when there is an increase in blood pressure to dangerous levels (usually above 180/110 mmHg). In some cases, sudden drops in blood pressure could also result in headaches similar to migraine. In this article, you’ll learn about these types of headaches so that you can recognize them when they occur.
Hypertension affects more than one billion people worldwide. It contributes significantly to stroke, heart disease, kidney failure, retinal damage, vision loss, erectile dysfunction, sleep apnea, metabolic syndrome, depression, anxiety and memory impairment. According to research conducted by the World Health Organization, hypertension accounts for nearly 9 percent of all deaths globally.
Blood vessels are sensitive organs that need constant care. Hypertension is defined as high blood pressure with two consecutive measurements of 140/90 mm Hg or greater taken on separate occasions at least four hours apart [Source: National Heart Lung and Blood Institute]. People who suffer from hypertension must take measures to control their condition because it puts them at risk for many health problems. One common method is through medication, which includes diuretics, vasodilator drugs, beta blockers, calcium channel blockers, angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and angiotensin II receptor antagonists. Other methods include lifestyle changes, such as increasing physical activity, reducing sodium intake, losing weight, quitting smoking and controlling diabetes.
Migraine Headaches and Hypertension
There are several causes of headaches, including sinusitis, ear infections, dehydration, low blood sugar, allergies and hormonal imbalances. However, only three main groups account for 90 percent of headaches, including vascular disorders, structural abnormalities and substance abuse. Of these three, vascular disorders are most likely to be caused by blood vessel narrowing due to inflammation or injury. Structural abnormalities involve problems within the brain itself, while substance abuse involves substances that affect the central nervous system.
The most common cause of migraine headaches is actually abnormal function of the arteries in the head, called arterial spasm. Arteries are elastic tubes made up of layers of smooth muscle cells, connective tissue, nerve endings and various cellular components. When blood flows through the artery, the muscles surrounding it relax, allowing the artery walls to expand. If the flow of blood slows down or stops altogether, then the muscle around the artery will contract, causing it to narrow. Nerve impulses travel along the axon of neurons to stimulate the muscles surrounding the arteries. With no stimulation, the muscles surrounding the artery will relax, causing it to widen again. Therefore, the diameter of the artery is determined by how much blood flowing through it.
Arterial spasm can be caused by either long-term or short-term factors. Long-term factors include genetic predisposition, family history of migraines, emotional trauma, stress, poor diet, lack of exercise and obesity. Short-term factors include alcohol consumption, caffeine, nicotine use, hormone fluctuations, medications and dietary deficiencies.
When arteries become narrowed, blood flow can slow down or stop completely. As a result, oxygen and nutrients may not reach the brain properly. This leads to pain and discomfort. Sometimes, the pressure exerted by a large mass, such as a tumor, will put too much strain on the small blood vessels leading to the brain. This can lead to increased intracranial pressure, resulting in symptoms of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, visual disturbances, drowsiness and lethargy. These symptoms are similar to those experienced during a migraine attack.
Diagnosis of migraine headaches is based on patient history and medical examination. A doctor will perform a neurological exam and check vital signs while listening to the patient’s chest and heart sounds. He or she will ask questions regarding the frequency, duration, intensity and location of the pain. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition, as well as whether the patient suffers from other comorbidities. Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) and triptans are commonly used treatments for migraine attacks.
What Causes Hypertension Headache?
High blood pressure can cause headaches in a variety of ways. First, elevated blood pressure can irritate the inner lining of the blood vessels, causing swelling and inflammation. Second, severe elevations in blood pressure can cause a phenomenon known as cerebral hemorrhage. Cerebral hemorrhages are areas of bleeding in the brain that can lead to permanent brain damage, coma and death. Third, extreme elevations in blood pressure can place excessive strain on the blood vessels, especially those near the optic nerves and spinal cord. Fourth, sudden drops in blood pressure can cause a condition known as transient global amnesia. Transient global amnesia is characterized by episodes lasting less than five minutes where patients cannot remember anything from the time before or after the episode. Lastly, extremely high blood pressures can force fluid back up into the lungs instead of being pumped out through the veins. Fluid buildup in the lungs restricts airflow and causes difficulty breathing. All of these issues combined make up what is referred to as primary hypertension.
Primary hypertension is classified according to the level of blood pressure at which it begins. Stage I hypertension is mild, with systolic blood pressure ranging between 120 and 139 mmHG and diastolic blood pressure ranging between 80 and 89 mmHG. Stage II hypertension ranges between 140 and 159 mmHG for both systolic and diastolic values. And stage III hypertension is defined as 160 mmHG or higher.
Treatment for high blood pressure varies depending on the age of the individual, his or her overall health status, presence of target organ damage and response to treatment. Lifestyle modifications, such as decreasing salt intake, lowering cholesterol and getting regular exercise are recommended for everyone with hypertension. Weight reduction programs are particularly beneficial for obese individuals. Dietary supplements and prescription medications can help lower blood pressure. Diuretic agents thiazide and loop diuretics tend to be the first line of defense against high blood pressure, followed by vasodilator drugs like nitroglycerin, guanethidine and methacholine. Calcium channel blockers, ACE inhibitors and ARBs are also useful alternatives. Patients should consult a physician regarding potential side effects or interactions with other medications.”

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