What it is, causes, symptoms & more

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Prehypertension occurs when a person’s blood pressure is elevated but not high enough to be considered high blood pressure. It can be a precursor to hypertension.

High blood pressure is a common condition affecting nearly half of Americans.

Prehypertension, or elevated blood pressure, means an individual is more likely to develop hypertension. This puts them at increased risk of life threatening conditions such as heart attack and stroke.

Read more to learn about prehypertension, its causes, treatment, and outlook.

Prehypertension means an individual’s blood pressure is elevated but not high enough to be considered high blood pressure. However, it is now an outdated term.

Although prehypertension was a clinical diagnosis in the old American College of Cardiology/ American Heart Association guidelines, it was removed for the updated 2017 guidelines. Now, a doctor may diagnose a person with elevated blood pressure or Stage 1 hypertension.

The following blood pressure readings define the new guidelines. They are broken into systolic blood pressure (SBP), or the top number in a blood pressure reading, and diastolic blood pressure (DBP), the bottom number.

Previous guidelines defined prehypertension as an SBP of 120–139 millimeters of mercury (Hg mm) and a DBP of 85–89 mm Hg.

Learn more about high blood pressure.

Prehypertension is elevated blood pressure. A person’s blood pressure will be higher than normal. However, it will not be high enough to be considered hypertension.

Although having elevated blood pressure is not the same as a high blood pressure diagnosis, it can still cause adverse health effects. Elevated blood pressure increases a person’s likelihood of developing high blood pressure in the future. To avoid this, individuals can take steps to control their blood pressure.

They can try lifestyle changes such as increasing physical activity, eating a heart-healthy diet, and avoiding smoking.

If a person has Stage 1 hypertension, a doctor may recommend further changes. They may also prescribe blood pressure medication depending on the person’s risk of atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease (ASCVD), a disease encompassing heart attack and stroke.

A doctor will likely prescribe medications alongside lifestyle changes for people with Stage 2 hypertension.

Read more about how lifestyle changes can lower blood pressure.

Blood pressure naturally rises with age, so as people get older, they are more likely to develop elevated blood pressure.

Other factors that may cause increased blood pressure include:

  • stress
  • smoking
  • lower physical activity levels
  • obesity
  • diabetes

Usually, there are no symptoms of high blood pressure. An individual may not know they have the condition until they visit a doctor for a health checkup.

However, if an individual is having a hypertensive crisis where their blood pressure is 180/120 mm Hg or higher, they may experience headaches and nosebleeds. A hypertensive crisis is a medical emergency and requires emergency medical attention.

Various symptoms could potentially relate to high blood pressure, including:

  • blood spots in the eyes
  • facial flushing
  • dizziness

People with a family history of high blood pressure are more likely to develop the condition themselves. Additionally, those with a history of smoking or drug misuse have an increased risk of developing high blood pressure.

Overweight and obese individuals with a BMI over 25 may also be more likely to have prehypertension or hypertension. However, having excess weight does not mean a person will have high blood pressure. People who have moderate or low weights can also develop elevated blood pressure.

Doctors do not consider prehypertension a diagnosable condition, so there is no standard treatment. However, early detection can prevent an individual from developing hypertension and the associated risks.

Individuals with prehypertension may require lifestyle modifications, including:

Depending on an individual’s progress using lifestyle modifications, doctors may consider using additional treatments, such as medications.

If an individual follows a doctor’s recommendations for healthy lifestyle modifications and possibly medications, they should be able to control their elevated blood pressure. This decreases their likelihood of developing high blood pressure and the associated cardiovascular health risks.

According to a 2015 study, people with prehypertension are 2–3 times more likely to develop hypertension than people with normal blood pressure. Therefore, it is essential to take early and effective steps to reduce blood pressure.

Prehypertension is a now-outdated term that refers to blood pressure levels that are above normal. Doctors now refer to this as elevated blood pressure or Stage 1 hypertension.

An individual with prehypertension may have no symptoms and may not know about their condition until they visit a doctor. They can reduce their blood pressure with lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, reducing alcohol intake, increasing exercise, and eating a heart-healthy diet.



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