Prehypertension, also known as elevated blood pressure is a condition where blood pressure levels are higher than normal, but not high enough yet to be diagnosed as hypertension. People with prehypertension have blood pressure readings that measure between 120/80mmHg and 139/89mmHg. As the name implies, people with prehypertension have a high risk of developing actual hypertension in the relatively near future unless they make lifestyle changes, such as getting more exercise, quitting smoking, reducing salt intake and eating healthier foods.
In West Africa, over 80 million people are estimated to have prehypertension and thus have a high risk of hypertension and a lot of them do not know this. If left untreated, prehypertension can progress into hypertension which increases the risk of a heart attack, stroke and heart failure later on.
What do the blood pressure numbers mean?
When blood pressure is measured, the result is given as two numbers, such as 120/80. The first number is called systolic blood pressure. It is the amount of force used when the heartbeats. The second number is called diastolic blood pressure. It is the pressure in the arteries when the heart rests between beats. Blood pressures are measured in millimeters of mercury (mmHg).
Causes and risk factors
Anything that increases the pressure against the arterial walls can lead to prehypertension. Several known risk factors are associated with a higher likelihood of developing prehypertension. Factors that increase the risk of developing prehypertension includes:
Weight: Being overweight (having a BMI — Body Mass Index — higher than 25) puts you at risk of developing prehypertension. When a person is overweight, more blood is needed to supply oxygen and nutrients to the body. This causes an increase in blood pressure
Sedentary lifestyle: A sedentary lifestyle often goes hand-in-hand with being overweight.
Family history: Research has shown that people who have family members with hypertension have a high risk of developing prehypertension.
Age: The older you are, the more at risk you are for developing prehypertension. Children can develop prehypertension, especially if they’re overweight or obese.
Unhealthy eating habits: Eating foods that are high in carbohydrates and saturated fats, drinking too many sugary drinks and eating larger portions than you need goes hand-in-hand with being overweight.
Diet high in sodium or low in potassium: Sodium and potassium are two key nutrients in the way your body regulates your blood pressure. Eating too much sodium or very little potassium increases blood pressure.
Race: Certain races are more likely to develop prehypertension. People of African descent have an increased prehypertension risk at a younger age than other races.
Tobacco use: Smoking cigarettes or being around others who smoke (passive smoking) causes narrowing of the blood vessels, as well as atherosclerosis and inflexibility of the arteries.
Stress: Anxiety and stress stimulate the nervous system to produce large amounts of hormones like epinephrine, norepinephrine, and cortisol that increase blood pressure.
Conditions like diabetes, Kidney disease, sleep apnea may also increase your risk of prehypertension
Prehypertension is usually asymptomatic (without symptoms) that is why it can go undetected for a long period. It is important to have your blood pressure checked every time you visit the doctor or a pharmacy.
The best way to diagnose hypertension is to have your blood pressure measured. A blood pressure reading ranging from 120/80 mmHg to 139/89 mmHg indicates you have prehypertension.
Prehypertension is likely to progress into hypertension. Hypertension can damage your organs and increase the risk of several conditions including a heart attack, heart failure, stroke, dementia, metabolic syndrome, trouble with memory or understanding, and kidney failure.
As we said in the beginning, lifestyle changes can help many people with prehypertension prevent it from progressing to hypertension.
Control your weight: Your prehypertension is more likely to progress to hypertension if you’re overweight. Losing even as little as 5% to 7% of your body weight can make the difference in reducing your risk hypertension and reversing prehypertension.
Eat healthy foods: Go for low-fat proteins like beans, vegetables, and whole grains like brown rice and millet. Limit the size of the food you eat, sugar, and starchy carbs. Eat more fiber-rich foods, which help you feel satisfied and not eat too much. Reduce dietary sodium (salt) to 2,300 mg a day or less.
Exercise: Getting at least 2.5 hours of exercise every week would help prevent hypertension and reverse your prehypertension. Having a 30 mins walk 5 days a week is a good deal.
Reduce alcohol intake: If you are a heavy alcohol user, avoid drinking too much alcohol, which can raise your blood pressure.
Don’t smoke: If you do not smoke, great! do not start. If you do smoke, ask your doctor for a smoking cessation program to help you quit.
Sustain is a behavior change program that can help you make those changes—and make them stick. Through the program, you can lower your risk of hypertension and other lifestyle diseases by as much as 58% (71% if you’re over age 60). Highlights include:
- Working with a trained health coach to make realistic, lasting lifestyle changes.
- Discovering how to eat healthily and add more physical activity into your life.
- Finding out how to manage stress, stay motivated, and solve problems that can slow your progress.
- Getting support from people with similar goals and challenges.