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Prehypertension

Slightly elevated blood pressure is known as prehypertension. Prehypertension will likely turn into high blood pressure (hypertension) if you don't make lifestyle changes, such as to start exercising and eating healthier. Both prehypertension and high blood pressure increase your risk of heart attack, stroke and heart failure.

A blood pressure reading has two numbers. The first, or upper, number measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart beats (systolic pressure). The second, or lower, number measures the pressure in your arteries between beats (diastolic pressure). Prehypertension is a systolic pressure from 120 to 139 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) or a diastolic pressure from 80 to 89 mm Hg.

Weight loss, exercise and other healthy lifestyle changes can often control prehypertension — and set the stage for a lifetime of better health.

Symptoms Causes Risk factors Complications Prevention

Prehypertension doesn't cause symptoms. In fact, severe high blood pressure may not cause symptoms.

The only way to detect prehypertension is to keep track of your blood pressure readings. Have your blood pressure checked at each doctor's visit — or check it yourself at home with a home blood pressure monitoring device.

When to see a doctor

Ask your doctor for a blood pressure reading at least once every two years. You may need more-frequent readings if you have prehypertension or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.

Any factor that increases pressure against the artery walls can lead to prehypertension. Atherosclerosis, which is the buildup of fatty deposits in your arteries, can lead to high blood pressure. Sometimes an underlying condition causes blood pressure to rise. Possible conditions that can lead to prehypertension or high blood pressure include:

  • Atherosclerosis
  • Sleep apnea
  • Kidney disease
  • Adrenal disease
  • Thyroid disease

Certain medications — including birth control pills, cold remedies, decongestants, over-the-counter pain relievers and some prescription drugs — also may cause blood pressure to temporarily rise. Illegal drugs, such as cocaine and amphetamines, can have the same effect.

Often, however, high blood pressure develops gradually over many years without a specific identifiable cause.

Risk factors for prehypertension include:

  • Being overweight or obese. A primary risk factor is being overweight. The greater your body mass, the more blood you need to supply oxygen and nutrients to your tissues. As the volume of blood circulated through your blood vessels increases, so does the force on your artery walls.
  • Age. Younger adults are more likely to have prehypertension than are older adults — probably because most older adults have progressed to high blood pressure.
  • Sex. Prehypertension is more common in men than in women.
  • Family history of high blood pressure. High blood pressure tends to run in families. If a first-degree relative, such as a parent or sibling, has high blood pressure, you're more likely to develop the condition.
  • Sedentary lifestyle. Not exercising can lead to the development of coronary artery disease, which in turn can increase your blood pressure.
  • Diet high in sodium or low in potassium. Sodium and potassium are two key nutrients in the way your body regulates your blood pressure. If you have too much sodium or too little potassium in your diet, you're more likely to have high blood pressure.
  • Tobacco use. Smoking cigarettes, chewing tobacco or even being around other people who are smoking (secondhand smoke) can increase your blood pressure.
  • Excessive alcohol use. Drinking more than two drinks a day if you're a man younger than 65, or more than one drink a day if you're a woman or a man older than age 65 can increase your blood pressure.

Certain chronic conditions — including high cholesterol, diabetes and sleep apnea — may increase the risk of prehypertension as well.

Prehypertension itself doesn't often have complications. If you have prehypertension, it's likely to worsen and develop into high blood pressure (hypertension). The term "prehypertension" is often used by doctors to signal that it's time to begin making lifestyle changes or, if you have certain conditions such as diabetes, to start taking medications to stop your blood pressure from rising.

High blood pressure can damage your organs and increase the risk of heart attack, heart failure, stroke and dementia.

The same healthy lifestyle changes recommended to treat prehypertension also help prevent high blood pressure. You've heard it before — eat healthy foods, exercise regularly, maintain a healthy weight, drink less alcohol. But take the advice to heart. Start adopting healthier habits today.

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