High Blood Pressure and Headaches

High blood pressure is commonly referred to as a “silent disease,” because it typically doesn’t announce itself with any hallmark signs and has no universal symptoms. However, there are a few symptoms that can occur with high blood pressure. Among these, recurrent or worsening headaches are the closest things to a “real” high blood pressure symptom.

Older man rubbing his forehead
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How Does Hypertension Impact Headaches?

It has been noted for decades that some people with high blood pressure may experience more frequent and severe headaches. However, the research is inconsistent.

For example, a research study from Norway suggests that people with high blood pressure may actually have fewer headaches than those with normal blood pressure.

The science and physiology behind headaches help explain why the relationship between blood pressure and headaches isn't straightforward. Increased blood pressure is associated with narrow blood vessels, which is one of the known causes of headache symptoms. However, dilation (widening) of the blood vessels can also cause headaches.

Blood pressure changes also cause a phenomenon called blood vessel autoregulation. This process leads to constriction or dilation of the blood vessels as the body adapts to changes in fluid, hormones, heart rate, and more,

Systolic vs. Diastolic Blood Pressure and Headaches

Blood pressure is measured with a blood pressure cuff and reported as two numbers—systolic pressure is the first or top number, while diastolic pressure is the second or bottom number. These numbers are both usually either normal, too high, or too low, but they are each a reflection of slightly different aspects of health. And sometimes isolated systolic hypertension or isolated diastolic hypertension can occur.

Among participants in the Norwegian study, those with higher systolic pressures and wider pulse pressures seemed to be the most protected from a headache. Interestingly, patients with high blood pressure who were receiving treatment seemed to have headache risk similar to that of patients with normal blood pressure.

And other research has suggested that a high diastolic blood pressure, which is the second number in a blood pressure reading, is associated with headaches.

Researchers don’t yet know exactly how blood pressure affects headaches. Theories range from altered levels of certain hormones and blood chemicals to differences in artery stiffness. Arteries tend to become stiffer as blood pressure rises, which is one of the main reasons that high blood pressure can lead to blood vessel damage.

Serious Hypertension Associated Headaches

Some types of hypertension can cause potentially dangerous types of headaches. These situations are medical emergencies that require prompt attention.

Sudden and severe hypertension can occur due to changes in medication dosing, major health events (such as kidney disease), or drug use. These health issues can cause blood pressure to rise rapidly, with potentially harmful outcomes—such as a heart attack or a cerebral hemorrhage (bleeding of the brain). Sometimes a headache can accompany the extreme rise in blood pressure.

Another type of hypertension, called intracranial hypertension, is different from the type of hypertension that's measured with a blood pressure cuff. This is high pressure in the skull, and it can occur due to brain disorders, such as brain tumors or meningitis (an infection around the brain). Intracranial hypertension causes severe head pain, confusion, and it can potentially lead to loss of consciousness.

A Word From Verywell

If you are being treated for high blood pressure and are suffering from frequent or worsening headaches, you should talk to your doctor. Headaches could be a sign that your blood pressure is inching up again. Some headache treatments can have a beneficial effect on blood pressure, and some migraine medications are not recommended if you have high blood pressure. You and your provider can discuss your treatment options.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Heart Association. What are the Symptoms of High Blood Pressure?

  2. Assarzadegan F, Asadollahi M, Hesami O, Aryani O, Mansouri B, Beladi moghadam N. Secondary headaches attributed to arterial hypertension. Iran J Neurol. 2013;12(3):106-10.

  3. Hagen K, Stovner LJ, Vatten L, Holmen J, Zwart JA, Bovim G. Blood pressure and risk of headache: a prospective study of 22 685 adults in Norway. J Neurol Neurosurg Psychiatry. 2002 Apr;72(4):463-6. doi:10.1136/jnnp.72.4.463

  4. Courand PY, Serraille M, Girerd N, Demarquay G, Milon H, Lantelme P, Harbaoui B. The paradoxical significance of headache in hypertension. Am J Hypertens. 2016 Sep;29(9):1109-16. doi:10.1093/ajh/hpw041

By Craig O. Weber, MD
Craig O. Weber, MD, is a board-certified occupational specialist who has practiced for over 36 years.