Uncomplicated high blood pressure usually occurs without any symptoms (silently) and so hypertension has been labeled "the silent killer." It is called this because the disease can progress to finally develop any one or more of the several potentially fatal complications of hypertension such as heart attacks or strokes. Uncomplicated hypertension may be present and remain unnoticed for many years, or even decades. This happens when there are no symptoms, and those affected fail to undergo periodic blood pressure screening.
Some people with uncomplicated hypertension, however, may experience symptoms such as headache, dizziness, shortness of breath, and blurred vision. The presence of symptoms can be a good thing in that they can prompt people to consult a doctor for treatment and make them more compliant in taking their medications. Often, however, a person's first contact with a physician may be after significant damage to the end-organs has occurred. In many cases, a person visits or is brought to the doctor or an emergency room with a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, or impaired vision (due to damage to the back part of the retina). Greater public awareness and frequent blood pressure screening may help to identify patients with undiagnosed high blood pressure before significant complications have developed.
About one out of every 100 (1%) people with hypertension is diagnosed with severe high blood pressure (accelerated or malignant hypertension) at their first visit to the doctor. In these patients, the diastolic blood pressure (the minimum pressure) exceeds 140 mm Hg! Affected persons often experience severe headache, nausea, visual symptoms, dizziness, and sometimes kidney failure. Malignant hypertension is a medical emergency and requires urgent treatment to prevent a stroke (brain damage).