What is a Blood Pressure Headache?

Darrell Laurant

Somehow, it just seems to make sense that high blood pressure would cause headaches. Maybe it's the word "pressure," which is what a headache often feels like. Possibly it is the sense that the blood is agitated and pounding against the inside of the skull.

Young African American males have higher risks of developing blood pressure headaches.
Young African American males have higher risks of developing blood pressure headaches.

Research into the "high blood pressure headache" phenomenon began as early as 1913, when physician Theodore Janeway identified "morning headaches" as a common symptom of high blood pressure. These headaches, he noted, seemed to decrease in severity as the day wore on. Janeway was a man of considerable credibility, one of the first professors of medicine at John's Hopkins University. Yet that didn't necessarily make him right. Recent research seems to indicate that there is actually no causal link between high blood pressure and a high blood pressure headache.

Aspirin is useful in treating a headache.
Aspirin is useful in treating a headache.

A Polish study for the Journal of Human Hypertension, for example, hooked 150 high blood pressure patients up with portable monitors that worked continuously. At the end of the study, 43 reported having headaches — but when those instances were compared with the blood pressure readings at the time, there seemed to be no correlation.

The brachial artery is commonly used to take blood pressure measurements.
The brachial artery is commonly used to take blood pressure measurements.

Far more extensive was a month-long high blood pressure headache survey conducted by the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery and Psychiatry, which extended to 22,000 adults and also found no connection.

Extremely high blood pressure can swell the optic nerve.
Extremely high blood pressure can swell the optic nerve.

The one frightening exception, apparently, is a condition called "malignant hypertension," in which extremely high blood pressure swells the optic nerve behind the eye and can cause a blinding headache. This occurs in only 1 percent of people with high blood pressure, with young African-American males most at risk.

Beta-blockers may treat both hypertension and migraine headaches.
Beta-blockers may treat both hypertension and migraine headaches.

As for the other 99 percent, yet another study (from Norway) found those with high blood pressure may actually have fewer headaches than a control group. That's because beta-blockers, a popular family of drugs for lowering blood pressure, is also a primary clinical weapon against migraine headaches.

Morning headaches can be a sign of high blood pressure.
Morning headaches can be a sign of high blood pressure.

Part of the supposed headache/high blood pressure link could be also be coincidental. People with severe headaches are more likely to visit a doctor or hospital, where their blood pressure is taken. There is even speculation that the anxiety of being diagnosed with high blood pressure could cause a "high blood pressure headache." Some of the same diet and lifestyle factors can cause both.

Nevertheless, Malcolm Law isn't completely convinced. A professor of epidemology at the University of London, he told WebMD: "My best guess is that high blood pressure does cause headaches — but that's just a guess."

The preponderance of evidence, though, suggests strongly that having a headache if you're prone to high blood pressure is nothing to worry about. A couple of aspirins often put the matter to rest.

Blood pressure headaches may or may not exist.
Blood pressure headaches may or may not exist.

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Discussion Comments


I was diagnosed with high blood pressure about a year ago. It was 160/100. After using a beta blocker and an aspirin for two months, it went down to 120/80. However it fluctuates from time to time and I get annoying headaches and nothing seems to help even Panadol. I even get dizzy sometimes. Does anyone have an answer?


I forget to take my meds on a regular basis and I find that when I get a specific headache from my eye to my ear on the left side of my head only occur when my blood pressure is particularly high mainly when the diastolic pressure is 100+ but I've had it happen as low as 95 and as high as 120 systolic.

On the other hand, it doesn't seem to have any pattern, with a range of anywhere from 145 to 220 but the headaches aren't terribly severe, mainly just annoying and tend to pulse with my heartbeat.


Had salty taste in mouth for a month along with a head ache on the right side every time I turned my head. The pain went up the right side of my face and was excruciating. Found out I had a heart murmur and my blood pressure was 172/112. The doctor put me on levaquin for a possible sinus infection. The headache stayed and the bad taste is still there. My blood pressure today was down to 140/103. Anyone have any ideas?


I have been taking Cozaar to battle high blood pressure. It does seem to be getting under control, with the diastolic remaining under 90 most of the time. However, I suffer occasionally from severe throbbing headaches that occur in the middle of the night. I have to get up and take Tylenol, but it often takes over an hour to have any effect.

Can this be caused by Cozaar? I have had headaches before which I've attributed to caffeine withdrawal mostly, but not with such pain and intensity.


When I started having problems I had a nagging painful headache for about 6 weeks. Couldn't take it anymore. Went to the doctor, my blood pressure was 154/96. after some brain scans to find out that I had no brain bleeding, and I was prescribed Lisinopril. That was July 2009.

Up until about a month or so ago I had very few episodes of higher blood pressure. All of which were accompanied by major headaches. When my blood pressure reaches about 140/90 I start to get an extreme headache. Nothing takes it away. Does anyone have a remedy? My head feels like it is going to burst it hurts so bad. Help!


@ Alchemy- Believe it or not beet juice has been scientifically proven to lower blood pressure. The natural nitrates in beet juice react with your saliva to create nitrite. The nitrite produced by beet juice has the same effect as the nitrite in blood pressure medication, lowering blood pressure in one to three hours, and keeping it lowered for up to 24 hours. You only need to drink one to two eight-ounce glasses a day to help regulate your blood pressure. The amount depends on how high your blood pressure is.


@ Alchemy- Most people know about the benefits of niacin (vitamin B3) in preventing high cholesterol and coronary heart disease, but niacin's benefits to those trying to manage high blood pressure is not well known. The vasodilation effects of higher doses of niacin will lower blood pressure, as well as give the user that flushed feeling. This same vasodilatory effect can also relieve high blood pressure headache symptoms.

Doctors have extensively studied the medical benefits of niacin. If you can get over the tingling sensation, it may be a good option for you. Just make sure you are taking niacin in its nicotinic acid form (the kind that gives you the flush), and not the niacinimide form. Niacinimide does little if anything to benefit those with high blood pressure.


I have been monitoring my blood pressure recently. In the last three months, my blood pressure has moved outside of the normal range. I was having problems sleeping, getting occasional headaches, and just generally worn down. These are all signs of high blood pressure.

The doctor said my diet and weight were all right, but my salt intake, caffeine intake, and stress levels were too high. I am not on blood pressure drugs, but doctors are having me monitor my blood pressure because it fluctuates from normal to high. I have to make changes to my lifestyle so I can better regulate my blood pressure.

I have quit drinking coffee in the last couple of weeks and started drinking green tea instead, but I am looking for some other ideas to help manage my blood pressure. Does anyone have any ideas?

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