Should I treat asymptomatic blood pressure (BP) elevation in my hospitalized patient with well-controlled BP prior to admission?

In contrast to the management of acute symptomatic hypertension in the hospital, evidence-based guidelines on when to treat asymptomatic BP elevation (eg, >160/90 mm Hg without signs of end-organ injury) in patients without acute conditions (eg, acute myocardial infarction [MI] or acute ischemic stroke) are lacking. The literature suggests, however, that a more permissive approach is appropriate in many asymptomatic patients with elevated BPs while hospitalized, particularly in those with well-controlled BPs as outpatient (1-4). 

In a 2018 study involving > 14,000 older adults hospitalized for common non-cardiac conditions, 52% of the cohort with elevated BPs (majority ranging ~160-180 mm Hg) but well-controlled BPs at home were discharged on a more intensive antihypertensive regimen (1). Patients with history of MI or cerebrovascular disease were no more likely and those with limited life expectancy, dementia or metastatic cancer were no less likely to receive antihypertensive intensification which suggests the decision for more aggressive treatment of elevated BP was in large part driven by the BP readings themselves. 

More intensive anti-hypertensive therapy has not only been associated with lack of reduction in cardiac events or improvement in BP control following discharge but also with more adverse events, such as acute kidney injury, MI, falls, syncope and hypotension and increased risk of readmission (2-3). 

Another concern is the frequent use of IV antihypertensives with its attendant risk of overcorrection and adverse events. One study found that about one-third of patients with asymptomatic uncontrolled BP treated with IV antihypertensives had an excessive drop in BP of more than 25% within 6 hours (5).

Since many factors may contribute to transiently elevated inpatient BPs (eg,  acute pain, stress, anxiety, exposure to new drugs and white coat hypertension) (1), the best advice when dealing with an elevated BP in hospitalized patients may be to repeat the BP, gather data on home BPs, contextualize the findings based on likelihood of benefits and risks of more intensive therapy and discuss with the outpatient provider before discharging patients on more intensified anti-hypertensive therapy (4). 

Bonus Pearl: Did you know that nearly one-half of patients with well controlled BPs at home have hypertension during their hospitalization? (1)

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1. Anderson TS, Wray CM, Jing B, et al. Intensification of older adults’ outpatient blood pressure treatment at hospital discharge: national retrospective cohort study. BMJ 2018;362:k3503.

2. Anderson TS, Jing B, Auerback A, et al. Clinical outcomes after intensifying antihypertensive medication regimens among older adults at hospital discharge. JAMA Intern Med 2019;170:1528-36.

3. Rastogi R, Sheehan MM, Hu B, et al. Treatment and outcomes of inpatient hypertension among adults with noncardiac admissions. JAMA Intern Med. Published online December 28, 2020.

4. Kearney-Strouse J. Tailor treatment for asymptomatic inpatient hypertension. ACP Hospitalist 2021; 15:22-23.

5. Lipari M, Moser LR, Petrovitch EA, et al. As-needed intravenous antihypertensive therapy and blood pressure control. J Hosp Med 2016;11:193-198.

6. Jacobs ZG, Najafi N, Fang MC, et al. Reducing unnecessary treatment of asymptomatic elevated blood pressure with intravenous medications on the general internal medicine wards: a quality improvement initiative. J Hosp Med 2019;14:144-150.

Disclosures: The listed questions and answers are solely the responsibility of the author and do not necessarily represent the official views of Mercy Hospital-St. Louis or its affiliate healthcare centers. Although every effort has been made to provide accurate information, the author is far from being perfect. The reader is urged to verify the content of the material with other sources as deemed appropriate and exercise clinical judgment in the interpretation and application of the information provided herein. No responsibility for an adverse outcome or guarantees for a favorable clinical result is assumed by the author. Thank you!




Should I treat asymptomatic blood pressure (BP) elevation in my hospitalized patient with well-controlled BP prior to admission?

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