Prehypertension occurs when your blood pressure is high but not high enough to be considered hypertension. Hypertension, or high blood pressure, means the force of blood pushing through your artery walls is too high.

Medically, prehypertension isn’t a disease, and it usually causes no symptoms. But prehypertension means you’re at risk for developing hypertension and heart problems, so you shouldn’t ignore it.

Fortunately, it’s possible to reduce your blood pressure through lifestyle changes. These changes can help prevent hypertension and the health issues associated with it.

Read on to learn more about prehypertension, what causes it, and how it’s typically treated.

Blood pressure refers to the pressure of blood against your artery walls. Arteries are blood vessels that bring blood from your heart to other tissues and organs in your body.

High blood pressure can damage your arteries. This can affect proper blood flow to important organs and tissues. That’s why it’s important to maintain a healthy or “normal” blood pressure.

A blood pressure reading consists of two numbers. Systolic blood pressure, or the top number, indicates the force of blood in your arteries when your heart beats. Diastolic blood pressure, or the bottom number, measures the pressure in your arteries when your heart rests.

Blood pressure readings

Systolic blood pressureDiastolic blood pressure
Normal blood pressureLess than 120 mmHg ANDLess than 80 mmHg
Prehypertension/elevated (at risk)120-129 mmHgANDLess than 80 mmHg
High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 1130 – 139 mmHg OR80 – 89 mmHg
High blood pressure (hypertension) stage 2140 mmHg or higherOR90 mmHg or higher

Prehypertension is the range between normal and high blood pressure. If it surpasses this range, it becomes hypertension, or high blood pressure.

Is prehypertension serious?

Prehypertension should be taken seriously. It indicates you’re on the path to developing high blood pressure, which can lead to a wide range of health problems.

But that doesn’t mean it can’t be reversed. By making key lifestyle changes, it’s possible to lower your blood pressure to healthy levels and protect your arteries from damage.

Typically, high blood pressure causes no symptoms. This means you won’t know if your blood pressure levels are increasing.

The only way to know if you have prehypertension is to measure your blood pressure.

To get your blood pressure checked, you can:

  • visit a doctor’s office
  • use a blood pressure measurement machine at a pharmacy
  • use a home blood pressure monitor

If you haven’t checked your blood pressure in a long time, consider visiting a primary care physician. This way, you can ensure the reading is accurate. Your doctor can also offer advice on how to check your blood pressure at home and what to do if your blood pressure is outside the normal range.

How often should you get your blood pressure checked?

Regularly checking your blood pressure is the best way to know if it’s within a healthy range.

If your blood pressure is normal, the American Heart Association recommends checking it at least once every two years.

If your blood pressure is high, your doctor might recommend more frequent readings. The best frequency will also depend on your medical and family history.

Prehypertension can develop for many reasons. This includes:

  • Lack of physical activity. A sedentary lifestyle can increase the force of blood in your arteries. That’s because exercise strengthens your heart, helping it pump blood more efficiently.
  • Higher sodium intake. Sodium increases the pressure of blood in your arteries. Examples of high sodium foods include processed meats, store-bought soups and sauces, and packaged meals.
  • Smoking and vaping. The chemicals in nicotine can constrict blood vessels, which increases blood pressure.
  • Alcohol intake. A high intake of alcohol can also raise blood pressure by constricting (narrowing) your blood vessels.
  • Lack of sleep. Your blood pressure naturally decreases during sleep. But if you don’t get enough sleep, your blood pressure may stay high for a longer time.

The following risk factors are also associated with prehypertension and hypertension:

  • being older (over 65 years old)
  • being overweight
  • being Black non-Hispanic
  • having diabetes
  • having a family history of hypertension

Race as a risk factor for prehypertension and hypertension may be related to a lack of access to healthcare services among historically marginalized groups.

The goal of prehypertension treatment is to reduce your blood pressure and prevent hypertension.

Commonly, treatment involves lifestyle changes. These changes often include:

Prehypertension treatment generally doesn’t involve medications. But if you have certain risk factors or medical conditions, your doctor may prescribe antihypertensive drugs.

Prehypertension is a warning sign. It means you’re at a higher risk of developing high blood pressure.

Without lifestyle changes, hypertension can damage your arteries and increase your risk of:

If you have prehypertension, consider it a chance to improve your health and make positive lifestyle changes.

Start by asking your doctor the following questions. These questions can help you understand your health status and create a plan that works for you:

  • Does my family or medical history increase my risk for hypertension?
  • What risk factors do I have for hypertension?
  • Which risk factors can I reduce or manage?
  • Am I at risk for certain complications of hypertension?
  • How often should I check my blood pressure?
  • How do I check my blood pressure at home?
  • I’m having trouble with a certain lifestyle change. Do you have any advice?

Prehypertension is the stage between normal blood pressure and hypertension. It’s a sign that you’re at risk for developing high blood pressure, which can lead to serious health conditions.

Prehypertension is treated with lifestyle modifications like dietary changes, increased physical activity, and stress management. Your doctor can help you create a plan based on your risk factors and lifestyle.

Checking your blood pressure is the only way to know if you have prehypertension. The general recommendation is to check it once every 2 years. If you do have high blood pressure, you’ll need to check it more frequently.