Has your doctor warned you that you’re prehypertensive? Or have your own blood pressure readings revealed you’re near the danger zone? In either case, prehypertension is a serious condition you shouldn’t take lightly. High blood pressure is linked to a variety of severe conditions, including heart attack, stroke, coronary artery disease and even kidney failure.
Fortunately, prehypertension can be reversed. A warning sign of higher pressures and dangerous downstream effects, prehypertension should prompt you to make a few important lifestyle changes. To learn how you can get your blood pressure back down to safe levels, read on to find out more about the condition’s symptoms, causes and cures.
Signs and Symptoms
How will you know whether you’re prehypertensive? According to the World Health Organization, prehypertensive or “at risk” patients have systolic blood pressures between 120 and 139, diastolic between 80 and 89. If you’re looking at the numbers on a medical report, they’ll probably appear as 120 / 80 to 139 / 89.
For most patients, however, even dangerously high blood pressures won’t produce symptoms. In fact, blood pressure is often called the “silent killer,” and few people ever experience headaches, facial flushing or dizziness. Ultimately, it’s crucial that you keep an eye on your readings, both at your doctor’s office and with an at-home monitor.
Understanding the Causes
Hypertension and prehypertension are complex conditions, and any factor that increases the pressure against artery walls can elevate blood pressure. Common causes include:
- Atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries)
- Kidney, adrenal and thyroid diseases
- Sleep apnea
Just as importantly, there are a variety of risk factors that increase your chances of developing high blood pressure. According to the Mayo Clinic, these risk factors include:
- Being overweight and obese
- Family history of high blood pressure
- Age, sex and race
- Sedentary lifestyle
- High-sodium and low-potassium diets
- Tobacco use
- Excessive alcohol consumption
While there are a few factors you can’t change, most are within your control. Here are a few of the best ways to address these risk factors and get your blood pressure back into a healthy range.
A Well-Balanced Diet
Improving your diet is one of the simplest, cheapest and most effective methods of reducing your blood pressure. By cutting back on saturated fats, cholesterol-rich foods and sugar, you’ll reduce your calorie consumption and improve your ratio of LDL (bad cholesterol) to HDL (good cholesterol). By reducing sodium and increasing potassium, you can also reduce the amount of water your body retains, which will in turn lower your blood pressure. Likewise, eating fiber-rich fruits and vegetables will help your kidneys excrete excess sodium.
Regular exercise has long been linked to healthy blood pressures. After all, a strong heart can pump more blood with less effort, reducing the pressure against your arterial walls. Exercise is particularly effective in reducing your systolic blood pressure–the top number of your reading, and the one with which people struggle the most.
Aside from their direct effects on blood pressure, a better diet and regular exercise will also cause you to lose weight. Body mass index (BMI), body fat percentage and blood pressure are closely linked, and, in general, the slimmer you are, the less you’re at risk for hypertension. Prehypertensive patients typically see great results with a 20-pound loss–often a drop of 5 to 20 points from their systolic blood pressure!
While short-term stressors are nothing to worry about, chronic stress is closely correlated with high blood pressure. This may be because stress leads people to smoke, drink or eat poorly, or because it produces hormones which damage the heart and arteries. In either case, you can address undue levels of stress by simplifying your schedule and taking time to relax. It may seem like there aren’t enough hours in the day, but taking control of your health will ultimately make you more productive, not less.
Addressing Sleep Deficiencies
Poor sleep is also strongly correlated with high blood pressure. If you’re struggling to get a good night’s sleep, you may be able to address the problem with diet, exercise and weight reduction. If you’re still having problems, however, you should consider getting a sleep study to determine whether you have obstructive apnea. If you do, a continuous positive airway pressure (CPAP) machine could be your ticket to restful sleep and lower blood pressure.
An Opportunity for Change
Hypertension is a serious condition, but by making healthier lifestyle choices, you can lower your blood pressure and take control of your health. In doing so, you’ll ultimately feel better and reduce your risk for a variety of chronic diseases. If you’ve recently received a diagnosis of prehypertension, look at it as an opportunity for positive change. Concerned you might be at risk? Find a physician today and schedule an appointment.