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Topic Overview

What is prehypertension?

Prehypertension is blood pressure that is higher than normal but not high enough to be high blood pressure . It is a warning that your blood pressure is going up.

Blood pressure is a measure of how hard your blood pushes against the walls of your arteries. Blood pressure that is too high (also called hypertension) harms your blood vessels. This raises your risk of heart attack , stroke , kidney failure , and other health problems.

Blood pressure is shown as two numbers, such as 120/80 (say "120 over 80"). The top number is the pressure when the heart pumps blood. It is called the systolic pressure. The bottom number is the pressure when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. It is called the diastolic pressure. An ideal blood pressure for an adult is less than 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. Prehypertension is between 120/80 and 140/90.

What makes blood pressure go up?

Experts don't know the exact cause of high blood pressure. But they agree that some things can make blood pressure go up. They include not getting enough exercise and being overweight. Eating foods that have too much sodium (salt) and drinking too much alcohol also can raise blood pressure.

What are the symptoms?

Blood pressure that is higher than normal does not cause symptoms. Most people feel fine. They find out they have higher-than-normal blood pressure during a routine exam or a doctor visit for another problem.

How is prehypertension diagnosed?

A simple test with a blood pressure cuff is all you need to find out your blood pressure. The doctor or nurse puts the cuff around your arm and pumps air into the cuff. The cuff squeezes your arm. The doctor or nurse takes your blood pressure while letting the air out of the cuff.

If this test shows that your blood pressure is higher than normal, your doctor may have you come in for a follow-up visit to be tested again. This will confirm that you have prehypertension.

Some people only have higher blood pressure when they're at the doctor's office. This is called white-coat hypertension . If your doctor thinks this is getting in the way of measuring your true blood pressure, you may need to take your blood pressure at home .

How is it treated?

Heart-healthy lifestyle changes can lower your blood pressure if you have prehypertension.

To lower blood pressure:

  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about treatments that can help you quit.
  • Stay at a healthy weight. Lose weight if you are overweight. Losing as little as 10 lb (4.5 kg) can help lower your blood pressure.
  • Be active on most days of the week. Try to do moderate activity at least 2½ hours a week. Or try to do vigorous activity at least 1¼ hours a week.
  • Eat a healthy diet. The DASH diet is an eating plan that can help lower your blood pressure. DASH stands for Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension. It focuses on eating foods that are high in calcium, potassium, and magnesium. The DASH diet includes lots of fruits and vegetables, as well as whole grains, fish, and poultry. Your doctor may suggest that you talk to a dietitian if you need help planning what to eat.
  • Limit sodium. For good health, less is best. Most people shouldn't eat more than 2,300 milligrams (mg) of sodium a day. If you have diabetes or chronic kidney disease, if you are African-American, or if you are older than age 50, try to limit the amount of sodium you eat to less than 1,500 mg a day. footnote 1 Your doctor will tell you how much you can have. Do not add salt to your food. Limit processed and canned foods, such as soups, frozen meals, and packaged snacks.
  • Limit alcohol to 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men. If your blood pressure tends to go up when you have alcohol, your doctor may suggest that you do not drink any alcohol.

Other Places To Get Help


American College of Cardiology: CardioSmart
American Heart Association (AHA)



  1. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, U.S. Department of Agriculture (2010). Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2010, 7th ed. Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Also available online:

Other Works Consulted

  • Eckel RH, et al. (2013). 2013 AHA/ACC guideline on lifestyle management to reduce cardiovascular risk: A report of the American College of Cardiology/American Heart Association Task Force on Practice Guidelines. Circulation. Accessed December 5, 2013.
  • U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2008). 2008 Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans (ODPHP Publication No. U0036). Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office. Available online:
  • Weber MA, et al. (2013). Clinical practice guidelines for the management of hypertension in the community. Journal of Clinical Hypertension. DOI: 10.1111/jch.12237. Accessed December 19, 2013.


ByHealthwise Staff

Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine

Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology

Current as ofFebruary 20, 2015