Without lifestyle changes, slightly high blood pressure leads to high blood pressure

Prehypertension refers to blood pressure that is in the higher than normal range and will likely become hypertension or high blood pressure in the future, which may in turn lead to heart attack or stroke.

A normal blood pressure reading is 120/80 or lower, with the 120 referring to systolic pressure (the amount of pressure in artery walls during heart beats) and the 80 referring to diastolic pressure (the amount of pressure in artery walls between heart beats).

The range for prehypertension is 120 to 139 for systolic and 80 to 89 for diastolic. If one or both numbers is in these ranges, you have prehypertension.

Causes of prehypertension and what to do about it

Among the causes are being overweight and obese, which requires more blood production and flow through the body, which in turn puts greater pressure on the walls of the arteries. People more at risk for prehypertension also include those with sleep apnea, and kidney, adrenal or thyroid diseases. Pregnant women, people who drink alcohol or smoke cigarettes or take illegal drugs, are also more likely be prehypertensive. High blood pressure and hypertension also runs in families (genetic).

While prehypertension seldom produces symptoms, you can tell if you have it by getting your blood pressure checked regularly. If you do have prehypertension, the good news is you can manage it with dietary and lifestyle changes, including the DASH diet (a low-sodium approach to eating), losing weight, managing stress and avoiding alcohol and cigarettes.

If you are at risk for hypertension or you already have prehypertension, be sure to talk with your doctor about your diet and lifestyle. Your doctor can help keep an eye on your blood pressure while guiding you in lowering it on your own without the use of medication.

To schedule an appointment with a Lankenau Heart Institute specialist, call 1.866.CALL.MLH (1.866.225.5654) or use our secure online appointment request form.