7 Steps to Tame Prehypertension

Medically Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD on July 08, 2013
3 min read

Is your blood pressure higher than it should be? Lower than the high blood pressure range, but still above normal?

That's prehypertension, and it may be more serious than you think.

Prehypertension is between 120-139 for the first number in your blood pressure reading, and/or 80-89 for the second number. Nearly 30% of American adults have prehypertension, according to the CDC.

What's the risk? You're more likely to get high blood pressure (hypertension).

Also, you may be more likely to have a stroke if your blood pressure is in the upper end of the prehypertension range and you're younger than 65, one study shows.

Even if your prehypertension isn't that high, it's still tough on your body. "It's causing the heart muscle to beat against a higher pressure, so [the heart] is becoming thicker," says Richard Stein, MD, who directs the exercise, nutrition, and cardiovascular program at New York University's Center for Prevention of Cardiovascular Disease.

Prehypertension and hypertension are on the rise. They've become more common as the U.S. has become more obese and inactive, Stein says. You're also more likely to get prehypertension if you have diabetes, high cholesterol, or a family history of high blood pressure, Stein says.

Prehypertension is a particular problem among African-Americans. Researchers have reported that African-Americans with prehypertension develop high blood pressure a year sooner than Caucasians. The reasons for that aren't known.

Prehypertension, like hypertension, doesn't show signs or symptoms. How do you know if you have it? The only way to know is to check your blood pressure, Stein says. You can take your blood pressure at your doctor's office, at home with a blood pressure monitor, or by using a blood pressure machine at your local pharmacy or grocery store.

If you're healthy and your top or bottom blood pressure number is above normal, wait 2 or 3 days and check it again. If it's still higher than normal, tell your doctor so you can start getting it under control.

The good news is, prehypertension doesn't have to become high blood pressure. To start turning things around, consult your doctor and take these 7 steps:

  1. Check your diet. Consider following the DASH diet, which is rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. It curbs fat and cholesterol. It also restricts sodium, which can raise blood pressure, and emphasizes foods rich in calcium, potassium, and magnesium, minerals that help lower blood pressure.
  2. Watch the salt. Most experts recommend cutting back on salt. Check the Nutrition Facts food label, limit processed foods, replace salt with herbs and spices, and don't add too much salt to foods. The American Heart Association recommends limiting sodium to no more than 1,500 milligrams (mg) a day, which is approximately one teaspoon of salt.
  3. Move more. Get at least 30 minutes of moderate activity every day, most days of the week.
  4. Get to a healthy weight. Extra pounds make prehypertension more likely. Physical activity and healthy eating can help you shed extra weight.
  5. Limit alcohol. Drink no more than two drinks a day if you're a man or no more than one if you're a woman. If you don't drink, don't start.
  6. Curb stress. It's unclear whether chronic stress, by itself, can raise your blood pressure in the long run. But it can make you more likely to overeat and skip exercise, Stein says. So change your stressful situations, or at least how you deal with them. Find healthy ways to ease stress and consider counseling.
  7. Keep up with your blood pressure. If you can, buy a home monitor, and take your blood pressure twice day: once in the morning and once at night, Stein says. "One very high reading is concerning, but one alone isn't enough," he says. "You want to see how it changes over time."