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Study: More High Blood Pressure ER Visits

Taber Andrew Bain
High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading cause of death in the U.S.

A new study conducted by the Department of Internal Medicine at Western Michigan University shows that the number of emergency room visits for high blood pressure that has no identifiable cause increased by 25% between 2006 and 2011 in the United States.

High blood pressure, or hypertension, is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and a major risk factor for heart attack, stroke and heart disease. It tends to be linked to a sedentary lifestyle in which people don’t exercise enough and have an improper diet.

For Dr. Andrew Brenner, director of emergency physicians at Southeast HEALTH, this nationwide issue goes beyond high blood pressure problems. He says a number of chronic conditions, like diabetes, have been getting worse. In addition, people with high blood pressure often have other health problems such as heart disease or kidney disease.

Dr. Brenner said high blood pressure is known as the “silent killer” because people don’t know that they have it.

Usually a patient goes to the ER for other symptoms because high blood pressures has none. People would come in with headaches or chest pain and if a patient is found to have a hypertension problem, the policy is to refer them to a private physician for long term control of the blood pressure.

“If the patient is symptomatic with headache, with confusion, with chest pain, then they need to get that addressed right away. It could be blood pressure or it could be something else, that has to be sorted out,” Dr. Brenner explained. “If it’s just an isolated high blood pressure and they are otherwise feeling okay, then usually that can be taken care of with a visit to their doctor’s office.”

From then on, the patient’s blood pressure needs to be monitored “pretty much for the rest of their life.”

“It’s not something that you manage in one day or one week. It’s part of a whole lifestyle pattern that takes place over not only years but decades,” Dr. Brenner said. “They need to lose weight if they are overweight, they need to exercise. They need to watch their diet and eliminate a lot of salty foods, and basically it’s just part of a general health management.”


According to the study, if visits resulting in a high blood pressure diagnosis are on the rise, the number of admissions and deaths related to it decreased. Dr. Brenner said one explanation could be that hypertension care is managed better today than it was 20 years ago.

“I think we can manage it better if it’s critical and the patient is admitted to the hospital, and I think that decreases deaths,” Dr. Brenner said.

The researchers indicated that further studies need to be done to determine if the rate of ER visits for high blood pressure is related to other factors such as other health conditions or gender.

The study findings were presented on September 9th at the American Heart Association’s High Blood Pressure Research Scientific Sessions in San Francisco.

Marine Perot was a KRCU reporter for KRCU in 2014.