Slightly elevated blood pressure is known as prehypertension. Prehypertension will likely turn into high blood pressure (hypertension) unless you make lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise and eating healthier foods. 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.
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:
- Obstructive 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.
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 starting at age 18. You may need more-frequent readings if you have prehypertension or other risk factors for cardiovascular disease.