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Prehypertension (Elevated Blood Pressure)

Medically reviewed by Last updated on Jan 5, 2023.

What is prehypertension?

Prehypertension is a blood pressure level that is elevated, or slightly higher than normal. Blood pressure is the force of your blood pressing against the walls of your arteries. Normal blood pressure is 119/79 or lower. Prehypertension is 120/80 to 129/80. Prehypertension increases your risk for chronic (long-term) high blood pressure. Prehypertension and high blood pressure increase your risk for heart and blood vessel disease. Over time, this increases your risk for a life-threatening heart attack, stroke, heart failure, or kidney disease.

Blood Pressure Readings

What increases my risk for prehypertension?

  • Obesity or lack of exercise
  • Eating too much sodium (salt)
  • Low intake of fruits, vegetables, and other foods high in potassium
  • Use of tobacco, alcohol, or illegal drugs
  • A medical condition, such as diabetes, high cholesterol, or sleep apnea
  • Medicines, such as steroids or birth control pills
  • A family history of hypertension or heart disease
  • Age older than 55 years (men)
  • Age older than 65 years (women)

How is prehypertension diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask if you have a family history of high blood pressure. He or she will also ask about the medicines you take and any health conditions you have. He or she will check your blood pressure using a blood pressure cuff. Your healthcare provider may take more than one blood pressure reading, and take the average of these readings.

How can I manage prehypertension?

The goal is to lower your blood pressure into the normal range. Talk to your healthcare provider about these and other lifestyle changes you may need to make. Lifestyle changes can help prevent the need for medicine to lower your blood pressure.

Ways to Lower Your Blood Pressure
  • Check your blood pressure as directed. Your healthcare provider will tell you how often to check your blood pressure. Regular checks can help you monitor your blood pressure levels and make lifestyle changes if needed. Your provider may want you to keep a record of your blood pressure readings. Bring the record with you to follow-up appointments.
    How to take a Blood Pressure
  • Eat less sodium (salt). Do not add sodium to your food. Limit foods that are high in sodium, such as canned foods, potato chips, and cold cuts.

  • Follow the meal plan recommended by your healthcare provider. Your healthcare provider may suggest that you follow the DASH Eating Plan. This eating plan is low in sodium, unhealthy fats, and total fat. It is high in potassium, calcium, and fiber.

  • Exercise to maintain or reach a healthy weight. Exercise at least 30 minutes per day, on most days of the week. This will help decrease your blood pressure. Ask your healthcare provider about the best exercise plan for you.
  • Decrease stress. This may help lower your blood pressure. Learn ways to relax, such as deep breathing or listening to music.
  • Limit alcohol. Ask your healthcare provider if it is safe for you to drink alcohol. Women should limit alcohol to 1 drink a day. Men should limit alcohol to 2 drinks a day. A drink of alcohol is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1½ ounces of liquor.
  • Do not smoke. Nicotine and other chemicals in cigarettes and cigars can increase your blood pressure and cause lung damage. Ask your healthcare provider for information if you currently smoke and need help to quit. E-cigarettes or smokeless tobacco still contain nicotine. Talk to your healthcare provider before you use these products.
  • Blood pressure medicine may be needed if you cannot lower your blood pressure.
  • Manage any other health conditions you have. Go to regular follow-up visits with your healthcare provider to manage these conditions.

Call your local emergency number (911 in the US) if:

  • You have any of the following signs of a heart attack:
    • Squeezing, pressure, or pain in your chest
    • You may also have any of the following:
      • Discomfort or pain in your back, neck, jaw, stomach, or arm
      • Shortness of breath
      • Nausea or vomiting
      • Lightheadedness or a sudden cold sweat
  • You have any of the following signs of a stroke:
    • Numbness or drooping on one side of your face
    • Weakness in an arm or leg
    • Confusion or difficulty speaking
    • Dizziness, a severe headache, or vision loss

When should I seek immediate care?

  • You have a severe headache.
  • You have sudden vision changes.

When should I call my doctor?

  • You have been taking blood pressure medicine and your blood pressure is still higher than your healthcare provider says it should be.
  • You have questions or concerns about your condition or care.

Care Agreement

You have the right to help plan your care. Learn about your health condition and how it may be treated. Discuss treatment options with your healthcare providers to decide what care you want to receive. You always have the right to refuse treatment. The above information is an educational aid only. It is not intended as medical advice for individual conditions or treatments. Talk to your doctor, nurse or pharmacist before following any medical regimen to see if it is safe and effective for you.

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