The definition of prehypertension sounds like some sort of medical no-man's
land--your blood pressure isn't below 120/80, which is considered
normal, but it also isn't above 140/90, which is considered high.
But prehypertension is actually a warning sign you should pay attention to, says
James DeCock, MD, a board-certified family medicine physician at
Mission Heritage Medical Group.
"With prehypertension, you have a much greater chance of developing
high blood pressure, also known as hypertension," Dr. DeCock says.
"Hypertension can take its toll by overworking the heart and damaging
the walls of blood vessels, making them susceptible to tears, ruptures
or increased plaque build-up. That increases your chances of heart attack
or stroke. Prehypertension can also cause damage to the heart, so it needs
to be treated as soon as possible."
The most important treatment to lower your blood pressure at this prehypertension
stage is making lifestyle changes. "That means no smoking, minimal
alcohol consumption and, the big key, exercising and eating a healthy,
low-salt diet to keep your weight down," Dr. DeCock says. "Aim
for meals loaded with produce, whole grains and low-fat dairy while also
avoiding processed foods as much as possible, which can be heavy on sodium.
Consuming too much salt can lead to water retention in the body, which
makes your blood vessels and heart work harder." The American Heart
Association recommends eating no more than 1,500 milligrams of sodium
daily, but your physician may suggest a different goal depending on your
When it comes to exercise, the target should be at least 150 minutes of
moderate-intensity activity. "Some small studies have found that
blood pressure may benefit from strength-training exercises," Dr.
DeCock says. "If your doctor gives you the go-ahead, add that to
your workout routine at least a couple of times each week."
If you have an underlying medical condition, medication could be a possibility
to lower your prehypertension. A recent report in
The Lancet, which analyzed 123 studies from 1966 to 2015, with almost 614,000 participants,
recommended that patients with a history of heart, cardiovascular or chronic
kidney diseases, or stroke or diabetes, should take medication to get
their systolic reading (the top number) below 130.
"A heart weakened by higher-than-normal blood pressure can be dangerous
for people who have a history of these diseases, which is why it's
especially important to lower those blood pressure numbers," Dr.
DeCock says. "But for those people with prehypertension and a normal
health history, the best first step is making those healthier lifestyle
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