What is the pathophysiology of hypertensive encephalopathy?

Updated: Dec 10, 2018
  • Author: Irawan Susanto, MD, FACP; Chief Editor: Helmi L Lutsep, MD  more...
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Answer

The clinical manifestations of hypertensive encephalopathy are due to increased cerebral perfusion from the loss of blood-brain barrier integrity, which results in exudation of fluid into the brain. In normotensive individuals, an increase in systemic blood pressure over a certain range (ie, 60-125 mm Hg) induces cerebral arteriolar vasoconstriction, thereby preserving a constant cerebral blood flow (CBF) and an intact blood-brain barrier.

In chronically hypertensive individuals, the cerebral autoregulatory range is gradually shifted to higher pressures as an adaptation to the chronic elevation of systemic blood pressure. [3] This adaptive response is overwhelmed during a hypertensive emergency, in which the acute rise in systemic blood pressure exceeds the individual’s cerebral autoregulatory range, resulting in hydrostatic leakage across the capillaries within the central nervous system (CNS). Brain MRI scans have shown a pattern of typically posterior (occipital greater than frontal) brain edema that is reversible. This usually is termed reversible posterior leukoencephalopathy or posterior reversible encephalopathy syndrome (PRES). [4]

With persistent elevation of the systemic blood pressure, arteriolar damage and necrosis occur. The progression of vascular pathology leads to generalized vasodilatation, cerebral edema, and papilledema, which are clinically manifested as neurologic deficits and altered mentation in hypertensive encephalopathy.


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