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Blood Pressure

Understanding Prehypertension

Prehypertension identifies people at risk of developing chronic high blood pressure if they don’t take steps to improve their lifestyle habits. Someone who ends up with full-blown high blood pressure may, in time, develop heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, or dementia. And may have to stay on prescription drugs for life.

The "prehypertension" numbers to remember are 120 over 80 up to 139 over 89. That reading should be seen as a yellow light. According to guidelines issued by the federal government, those numbers signal the presence of prehypertension.

Checking the pressure

For healthy adults, starting at age 18, blood pressure should be measured every year. More often if you have abnormal readings. Regular blood pressure checks are important because you can feel perfectly healthy yet still have an elevated level.

A reading of 120 over 80 is where prehypertension begins, and 140 over 90 is where hypertension begins for most adults. When the top (systolic) number is between 120 and 139, and/or the bottom (diastolic) number is between 80 and 89, your reading is in the prehypertension range. For people older than age 50, the systolic reading is more important.

When your systolic pressure is 120 or higher, you should focus on lifestyle choices to try to decrease your blood pressure. These include such things as weight loss, low salt diet, and regular exercise. Talk to your healthcare provider about your target blood pressure levels and the possible need for medicine.

If you have prehypertension

Don't wait until you develop high blood pressure to do something about it. Small lifestyle changes can help delay progression to high blood pressure and the need for medicine.

  • Start with exercise. Regular, vigorous walking has been shown to help lower blood pressure. Exercise will help keep your weight under control, too.

  • Eat plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products.

  • Limit sodium. The American Heart Association recommends everyone, no matter their age, ethnic background, or medical conditions, consume no more than 2,400 mg of sodium a day. Consuming no more than 1,500 mg of sodium a day can lower your blood pressure even more.

  • Avoid alcohol.

  • If you smoke, get help to quit.

  • Learn relaxation techniques to help you better handle stress.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Kang, Steven, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/27/2016
© 2000-2017 The StayWell Company, LLC. 800 Township Line Road, Yardley, PA 19067. All rights reserved. This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your healthcare professional's instructions.