The effects of high blood pressure, or hypertension, can be hard to understand. You usually don't have symptoms and you can't see the damage it's causing to your blood vessels. But this damage raises your risk of both heart attack and stroke.
If your doctor says you have prehypertension, it means your blood pressure is not yet considered high, but it's slightly elevated. Even slightly elevated blood pressure raises your chances of heart attack and stroke. You're also more likely to develop high blood pressure.
What are the numbers?
Keep track of your blood pressure numbers each time you see your doctor.
You'll hear them described as "120 over 80," for example. The upper number (120) is your systolic pressure. This is the pressure inside your arteries when the heart is pumping blood. The lower number (80) is your diastolic pressure. This is the pressure when your heart is at rest.
- High blood pressure or hypertension: 140/90 and above
- Prehypertension: 120/80 to 139/89
- Normal: 119/79 and lower
What does high blood pressure mean?
Blood pressure is the force of blood in your arteries as the heart beats and relaxes. Your blood pressure goes up and down during the day, but if it gets too high, you may have hypertension or prehypertension.
Hypertension and prehypertension damage the artery wall and cause the artery to become stiff. This can cause hardening of the arteries or atherosclerosis and raise the risk of heart attack and stroke.
And when prehypertension gives way to high blood pressure, your chances of stroke and heart disease become considerably higher.
How do you treat prehypertension?
You might not need to take medicine to treat prehypertension unless you have other medical problems like diabetes or kidney disease. But, lifestyle changes are important to get your blood pressure back down to normal.
- Eat heart-healthy. Include whole grains, low-fat or nonfat dairy products, and fruits and vegetables in your meals. Eat fewer saturated fats, such as cheese, butter and sausage. Eat fish, lean meat, and skinless chicken instead. Ask your doctor about DASH, the Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. Adding more potassium rich foods to your diet can help reduce blood pressure.Potassium can be found in many fruits and vegetables, beans/legumes, nuts, and dairy products.
- Cut the sodium.Eating a diet high in sodium may raise your blood pressure and lead to heart disease and stroke. The American Heart Association recommends limiting daily sodium to 1,500 mg for all Americans.It's also a good idea to eat fewer processed and packaged foods, which often contain a lot of salt. Choose foods labeled "low-sodium" and check food labels to see how much sodium they contain.
- Stay at a healthy weight and be physically active. If you are overweight, losing just 5 pounds can help you lower blood pressure. Being physically active can help you maintain your weight.
Created on 07/11/2008
Updated on 06/30/2011
- American Heart Association. Healthy Diet Goals. Available at:
- U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Screening for high blood pressure: U.S. Preventive Services Task Force reaffirmation recommendation statement. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2007;147(11):783-787.
- National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute. The seventh report of the joint national committee on prevention, detection, evaluation, and treatment of high blood pressure.
- U.S. Department of Agriculture. Dietary Guidelines of Americans 2010.