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J Clin Pharmacol. 1995 Aug;35(8):747-62.

Management of hypertensive urgencies and emergencies.

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Department of Medicine, Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Bronx, New York 10461, USA.


Hypertensive emergency is a condition in which there is elevation of both systolic and diastolic blood pressure with the presence of acute target organ disease. Hypertensive urgency is a condition where the blood pressure is elevated (diastolic > 120 mmHg) with the absence of acute target organ disease. Hypertensive emergencies are best managed with parenteral drugs and careful intraarterial blood pressure monitoring. Hydralazine has been widely used in treatment of hypertension in eclampsia and preeclampsia, and its safety has been demonstrated in these patients. Sodium nitroprusside (SNP) has the most reliable antihypertensive activity, which begins immediately after its administration and ends when the infusion is stopped. As with diazoxide, it should be used with caution in patients with impaired cerebral flow. SNP is the preferred drug in obtaining controlled hypotension in patients undergoing neurovascular surgery. Intravenous nitroglycerin is useful in patients prone to myocardial ischemia, but should be avoided in patients with increased intracranial pressure. Esmolol is effective in controlling both supraventricular tachyarrhythmias and severe hypertension. Its short onset of duration of action make it useful in the emergent setting, but because of its negative inotropic effect its use should be avoided in patients with low cardiac output. Verapamil should not be used in patients with preexisting conduction abnormalities. Nicardipine is a potent arteriolar vasodilator without a significant direct depressant effect on myocardium. As with other afterload reducing agents, it should not be used in patients with severe aortic stenosis. Because angiotensin-converting enzyme (ACE) inhibitors generally cause cerebral vasodilatation, enalaprilat may be particularly beneficial for patients who are at high risk of developing cerebral hypotensive episodes secondary to impaired cerebral circulation. Fenoldopam, a selective post-synaptic dopaminergic receptor (DA1) has been shown to be effective in treating severe hypertension with a lower incidence of side effects than SNP. Hypertensive urgencies can usually be managed with oral agents. Oral nifedipine, captopril, clonidine, labetalol, prazosin, and nimodipine have all been shown to be effective in these situations.

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