Prehypertension: Are You at Risk?
In prehypertension, the systolic (top number) reading is 120 mmHg-139 mmHg, or the diastolic (bottom number) reading is 80 mmHg-89 mmHg.
Prehypertension is a warning sign that you may get high blood pressure in the future.
High blood pressure increases your risk of heart attack, stroke, coronary heart disease, heart failure, and kidney failure. There's no cure for high blood pressure, but there is treatment with diet, lifestyle habits, and medications.
Blood pressure of 120/80 mmHg used to be considered "normal." Today, normal blood pressure is lower than 120/80 mmHg.
We know that starting as low as 115/75 mmHg, the risk of heart attack and stroke doubles for every 20-point jump in systolic blood pressure or every 10-point rise in diastolic blood pressure for adults aged 40-70.
Who Is at Risk for Prehypertension?
Hypertension is a growing epidemic in the U.S. Nearly half of all adults older than age 18 have prehypertension or hypertension, as measured by average of two or more readings at two or more doctor's visits.
According to the American Heart Association, 59 million people in the U.S. have prehypertension.
People with prehypertension may have a greater risk for other cardiovascular disease (CVD) risk factors. These risk factors -- such as high cholesterol, obesity, and diabetes -- are seen more in people with prehypertension than in those with normal blood pressure.
Is Prehypertension a Result of Aging?
You may wonder if high blood pressure happens with aging, but experts say no.
Some populations across the globe have minimal rise in blood pressure with aging. In some parts of Mexico, the South Pacific, and other parts of the world, people have very low salt intake. In these areas, the age-related rise in blood pressure is small compared with the U.S.
Is There Treatment for Prehypertension?
Prehypertension is a warning sign. It means that you're at a greater risk of high blood pressure. Depending on your blood pressure and risk factors for heart disease, you may only need to make a few lifestyle adjustments. Here are some strategies to help you manage prehypertension:
- Lose weight if you are overweight. Being overweight increases the risk of high blood pressure. However, losing weight can lower high blood pressure. Studies show that modest weight loss can prevent hypertension by 20% in overweight people with prehypertension.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise helps you lose weight. Exercise also helps lower blood pressure.
- Eat plenty of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, fish, and low-fat dairy. Studies show high blood pressure can be lowered and prevented with the DASH diet. This diet is low in sodium and high in potassium, magnesium, calcium, protein, and fiber.
- Cut back on dietary salt/sodium. A diet high in sodium (salt) can increase blood pressure. A low-sodium diet can lower high blood pressure -- or prevent it. Aim for less than 2,300 milligrams of sodium daily (about 1 teaspoon of table salt).
- Eat foods low in saturated and trans fat and cholesterol. Diets high in saturated fat (meats and high-fat dairy), trans fat (some margarine, snack foods, and pastries) and cholesterol (organ meats, high-fat dairy, and egg yolks) may lead to obesity, heart disease, and cancer.
- Eat a plant-based or vegetarian diet. Add high-protein soy foods to your diet. Increase servings of fruits and vegetables by adding one serving at a time. You can add a serving of fruit at lunchtime. Then add a serving of vegetables at dinner.
- Drink only in moderation. Drinking excess alcohol can increase blood pressure. Limit drinking to no more than two drinks a day for men, and one drink a day for women.
It's important to get your blood pressure checked regularly. Know your blood pressure number. Let your doctor know if your blood pressure number is higher. You can monitor your blood pressure between doctor's visits with a home blood pressure monitor. Or, you can use an electronic blood pressure monitor at your local pharmacy, grocery store, or fire station.
Talk to your doctor about your blood pressure. Ask if diet and exercise can help lower your risk of getting high blood pressure.