Comparative tolerability profile of hypertensive crisis treatments

Ehud Grossman*, Avi N. Ironi, Franz H. Messerli

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Hypertensive crisis is defined as a severe elevation in BP and is classified as either urgency or emergency. In hypertensive urgency there is no end-organ injury and no evidence that acute BP lowering is beneficial. Indeed, rapid uncontrolled pressure reduction may be harmful. Therefore, in hypertensive urgencies BP should be lowered gradually over 24 to 48 hours using oral antihypertensives. When the cause of transient BP elevations is easily identified, appropriate treatment should be given. When the cause is unknown, an oral antihypertensive should be given. The efficacy of available treatments appear similar; however, the underlying pathophysiological and clinical findings, mechanism of action and potential for adverse effects should guide choice. Captopril should be avoided in patients with bilateral renal artery stenosis or unilateral renal artery stenosis in patients with a solitary kidney. Nifedipine and other dihydropyridines increase heart rate whereas clonidine, β-blockers and labetalol tend to decrease it. This is particularly important in patients with ischaemic heart disease. Labetalol and β-blockers are contraindicated in patients with bronchospasm and bradycardia or heart blocks. Clonidine should be avoided if mental acuity is desired. In hypertensive emergency there is an immediate threat to the integrity of the cardiovascular system. BP should be immediately reduced to avoid further end organ damage. Sodium nitroprusside is the most popular agent. Nitroglycerin (glyceryl trinitrate) is preferred when there is acute coronary insufficiency. A β-blocker may be added in some patients. Loop diuretics, nitroglycerin and sodium nitroprusside are effective in patients with concomitant pulmonary oedema. Enalaprilat is also theoretically helpful, especially when the renin system might be activated. Initial treatment of aortic dissection involves rapid, controlled titration of arterial pressure to normal levels using intravenous sodium nitroprusside and a β-blocker. If β-blockers are contraindicated, urapidil or trimetaphan camsilate are alternatives. Hydralazine is the drug of choice for patients with eclampsia. Labetalol, urapidil or calcium antagonists are possible alternatives if hydralazine fails or is contraindicated. For patients with catecholamine-induced crises, an α-blocker such as phentolamine should be given; labetalol or sodium nitroprusside with β-blockers are alternatives. There are few, if any, comparitive or randomised trials providing definitive conclusions about the efficacy and safety of comparative agents. Some investigators recommend decreasing the diastolic BP to no less than 100 to 110mm Hg. A reasonable approach for most patients with hypertensive emergencies is to lower the mean arterial pressure by 25% over the initial 2 to 4 hours with the most specific antihypertensive regimen.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)99-122
Number of pages24
JournalDrug Safety
Issue number2
StatePublished - 1998


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