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Heart Disease

How to Manage Prehypertension

A diagnosis of prehypertension identifies people at risk of developing chronic high blood pressure unless they take steps to improve their lifestyle habits. Prehypertension is defined as a blood pressure with the top (systolic) number between 120 and 139, or the bottom (diastolic) number between 80 and 89. Talk with your healthcare provider about your target blood pressure levels. If you end up with full-blown high blood pressure, you may, in time, develop heart disease, stroke, kidney disease, blindness, or dementia. You may also have to stay on prescription drugs for life.

The prehypertension numbers to remember are 120 over 80 — the blood pressure reading that until recently was considered to fall within a healthy range. That reading now should be seen as a yellow light. According to federal guidelines, those numbers signal the low end, or the beginning, of prehypertension. Prehypertension is diagnosed when either the top number or the bottom number is high.

Checking the pressure

Middle aged woman taking her blood pressure with a home monitor

When blood pressure is high, your heart works harder on every beat and excessive pressure is placed on the walls of your arteries. Without effective treatment, the forceful blood flow eventually can harm your arteries.

For healthy adults age 18 and older, blood pressure should be measured every year. More often if there is an abnormal reading. There's no way to know if your blood pressure is high unless you have it checked. You can feel perfectly healthy, yet still have an elevated level. High blood pressure is defined as blood pressure equal to or above 140/90.

When your systolic pressure is 120 or higher, you need to focus on lifestyle choices to try to improve your blood pressure. To prevent full-blown hypertension, if you have prehypertension, you need to live a healthy lifestyle.

Get your body moving

Regular vigorous walking lowers your blood pressure numbers. But any physical activity can help, as long as it gets your heart pumping hard for 30 minutes or more each day.

Keep weight under control

The increase in high blood pressure in recent years is mostly because Americans are getting heavier. You can reach and keep a healthy weight by eating healthy foods, eating less at each meal, and getting regular exercise. Losing as few as 10 pounds can have a significant effect on your blood pressure levels.

Follow a healthy diet

Hypertension experts advocate the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) eating plan as a rational approach to healthy eating. This diet focuses on a high intake of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and low-fat dairy products. The diet limits sugary foods and beverages, saturated fat, cholesterol, and sodium.

Limit salt (sodium chloride)

All people should limit their salt intake. 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.

Limit alcohol

Women should limit their alcohol to 1 drink per day, and men should have no more than 2 drinks a day, according to international blood pressure guidelines. This is not a recommendation to drink alcohol; but rather a guide to limit your intake if you choose to drink.

Don't smoke

Smoking cigarettes temporarily causes an increase in blood pressure. But more importantly, smoking adds to your risk of developing heart disease and stroke. If you smoke, get help to quit.

Online Medical Reviewer: Fraser, Marianne, MSN, RN
Online Medical Reviewer: Kang, Steven, MD
Date Last Reviewed: 4/27/2016
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