Visiting hours have changed as a result of COVID-19. Learn more. Testing information is available. Learn more.

Published on October 22, 2021

Prehypertension: High Blood Pressure’s Warning Sign

Doctor talking to patientWhat you need to know if you’ve been diagnosed with elevated blood pressure.

You’re at the doctor’s office getting your blood pressure tested, and the reading comes back: You have prehypertension, a warning sign that you might have hypertension—high blood pressure—in the future.

High blood pressure can put you at greater risk of heart attack, stroke and other life-threatening complications. So, what can you do to stop prehypertension from becoming full-on hypertension? Let’s find out!

A Word About the Numbers

Blood pressure is measured using two numbers. The first or top number is called systolic blood pressure, and it measures the pressure in your blood vessels when your heart beats. The second or bottom number is called diastolic blood pressure, which measures the pressure in your blood vessels when the heart rests between beats.

For years, hypertension was classified as a blood pressure reading of 140/90 mmHg or higher. In 2015, a clinical study called the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) found that lowering the guidelines for hypertension helped better prevent cardiovascular problems in people with a higher baseline risk for cardiovascular disease. Those at risk could be treated earlier—and, as a result, had better outcomes.

The updated guideline classifies hypertension as a blood pressure reading of 130/80 mmHg or higher.

Lifestyle Changes That Help Lower Blood Pressure 

If you’ve been diagnosed with prehypertension, your doctor may suggest lifestyle changes to lower your blood pressure. While it may be difficult, making dietary changes and exercising more often can help prevent hypertension. 

When it comes to nutrition, he recommends the Mediterranean or DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. The Mediterranean diet is based on Mediterranean food culture, with the DASH diet being a slight adaptation of that diet. With both, you eat fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts and legumes, along with fish and chicken. Red meat and dairy products are allowed but should be eaten less often. 

Instead of salt, use herbs and spices for flavor and olive oil instead of butter. Both diets also limit alcohol intake. For nutrition guidance, contact a registered dietitian at Wayne UNC. 

At least an hour and a half or two hours per week of aerobic (cardio) and anaerobic exercise (weights or resistance training) is recommended. 

Lastly, see your doctor more often. Many providers ask that patients with elevated blood pressure check their readings at home for a few months, then follow up. Sometimes the stress of a doctor’s office can artificially increase blood pressure readings.

Treatment for Prehypertension

If you continue to have elevated blood pressure, then your doctor will start you on blood pressure medication.

The goal is to not let blood pressure remain high for too long, especially if you have other risk factors for cardiovascular disease, such as high cholesterol, metabolic syndrome, and/or elevated blood sugar. Hypertension dramatically increases your risk to develop not only coronary artery disease but also heart failure, peripheral vascular disease and stroke. 

Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about your blood pressure. If you need a doctor, find one near you.

Sign Up for Our E-newsletter

Subscribe to our monthly e-newsletter to receive news about Wayne UNC health services and wellness events by email.