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Prehypertension: Take heart and take control

By Michael W. Rosen, M.D.

Published in Healthy Mind Healthy Body

Prehypertension is a warning. It’s also a call to action. By taking control of your health, you may be able to prevent high blood pressure, protect your heart and improve your overall well-being.

Here are some questions and answers about this common condition.

Q. What is prehypertension?
A. When your blood pressure readings regularly fall between normal and high, it’s considered prehypertension.

Your blood pressure numbers are a measure of the force of your blood against your artery walls. The first number — systolic pressure — is when your heart is beating. The second number — diastolic pressure — is between beats, when your heart is at rest.

Blood pressure can vary. One slightly above-normal reading may not be a problem. But, when readings on two or more occasions are in the prehypertension range, it can be a concern — and a signal for action.

Q. Why is it a problem?
A. Prehypertension raises your risk of both stroke and heart disease. And it often leads to high blood pressure. High blood pressure does damage throughout the body. It raises the risk of heart failure, kidney disease and blindness — among other problems.

Q. Who is likely to get it?
A. Prehypertension and hypertension are both very common — especially as people get older. In fact, middle-aged Americans have a 90 percent chance of developing high blood pressure during their lives.

But, young people aren’t immune. According to the National Institutes of Health, more and more young adults have high blood pressure — or are at risk of getting it.

It also occurs more often among people who:

  • 1. Are African-American
  • 2. Are overweight
  • 3. Have a family history of the condition
  • 4. Smoke
  • 5. Are inactive
 

Q: Are there symptoms to look out for?
A: No. People with blood pressure that’s higher than normal usually feel fine. You need to get it checked to know where you stand. Your doctor can tell you how often you should have yours measured.

Q. If it’s too high, what steps can I take?
A. You can start with lifestyle changes. Doctors often encourage these key steps to help people improve their blood pressure — and their health:

  • 1. Lose excess weight.
  • 2. Get regular exercise.*
  • 3. Focus on healthy foods — fruits, vegetables, low-fat dairy products, whole grains and lean proteins. And, limit your sodium intake.
  • 4. Quit smoking, if you smoke.
  • 5. If you choose to drink alcohol, do so only in moderation. That means no more than one drink a day for women and no more than two for men.
  • 6. Manage stress.
 

People who take these steps can often avoid other forms of treatment. But, if lifestyle changes alone aren’t enough, there are medicines that can help.

* For safety’s sake, talk with your doctor before significantly increasing your activity level.
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© 2013, United HealthCare Services, Inc. All rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.