High-Normal Blood Pressure

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High-Normal Blood Pressure

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What is high-normal blood pressure?

High-normal blood pressure (also called 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. But you can take steps to get your blood pressure back to normal.

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. The bottom number is the pressure when the heart relaxes and fills with blood. Normal blood pressure is less than 120/80. High blood pressure is 140/90 or higher. High-normal blood pressure is between 130/85 and 140/90. Your blood pressure can be too high even if only one of the two numbers is high.

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 examination or a doctor visit for another problem.

How is high-normal blood pressure 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.

Your blood pressure may be measured at two or more separate times to make sure that it is higher than normal. This is because blood pressure goes up and down throughout the day. Also, some people have higher blood pressure when they are in a doctor's office but they have normal blood pressure at other times. This is called white-coat hypertension. If you think you may have this, talk to your doctor about checking your blood pressure more often to see if you really have high blood pressure.

How is it treated?

Many people can lower their blood pressure with diet, exercise, and other lifestyle changes. If those steps don't lower your blood pressure enough, you can take medicine. But because you are treating your blood pressure before it gets too high, lifestyle changes may be all you need.

Here's what you can do to help get your blood pressure back to normal.

  • Do not smoke or use other tobacco products. If you do smoke, talk to your doctor about treatments that can help you quit.
  • Lose weight if you are overweight. Losing as little as 4.5 kg (10 lb) can help lower your blood pressure.
  • 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.
  • Cut back on salt. Some doctors recommend that you have no more than 2,300 mg (milligrams) of sodium each day. The Canadian Hypertension Education Program (CHEP) recommends no more than 1,500 mg of sodium each day for adults up to age 50.1 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 how much alcohol you drink. If your blood pressure tends to go up when you have alcohol, your doctor may suggest that you do not drink any alcohol.
  • Try to do moderate or vigorous activity at least 2½ hours a week. It's fine to be active in blocks of 10 minutes or more throughout your day and week.

Other Places To Get Help


Canadian Cardiovascular Society
222 Queen Street
Suite 1403
Ottawa, ON  K1P 5V9
Phone: 1-877-569-3407 toll-free
(613) 569-3407
Fax: (613) 569-6574
Web Address: www.ccs.ca

The Canadian Cardiovascular Society works to advance the cardiovascular health and care of Canadians through leadership, research, and advocacy.

Canadian Hypertension Society
Email: info@hypertension.ca
Web Address: http://www.hypertension.ca/

The Canadian Hypertension Society promotes the effective management of hypertension in Canada. The organization provides information about the condition and supports research.

Dietitians of Canada
480 University Avenue
Suite 604
Toronto, ON  M5G 1V2
Phone: (416) 596-0857
Fax: (416) 596-0603
Email: centralinfo@dietitians.ca
Web Address: www.dietitians.ca

The Dietitians of Canada website provides a wide range of food and nutrition information, including fact sheets on frequently asked food and diet questions, quizzes and other tools to assess your diet habits, and meal planning guides.

Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada
222 Queen Street
Suite 1402
Ottawa, ON  K1P 5V9
Phone: (613) 569-4361
Fax: (613) 569-3278
Web Address: www.heartandstroke.ca

The Heart and Stroke Foundation of Canada works to improve the health of Canadians by preventing and reducing disability and death from heart disease and stroke through research, health promotion, and advocacy.

U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
P.O. Box 30105
Bethesda, MD  20824-0105
Phone: (301) 592-8573
Fax: (240) 629-3246
TDD: (240) 629-3255
Email: nhlbiinfo@nhlbi.nih.gov
Web Address: www.nhlbi.nih.gov

The U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) information center offers information and publications about preventing and treating:

  • Diseases affecting the heart and circulation, such as heart attacks, high cholesterol, high blood pressure, peripheral artery disease, and heart problems present at birth (congenital heart diseases).
  • Diseases that affect the lungs, such as asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), emphysema, sleep apnea, and pneumonia.
  • Diseases that affect the blood, such as anemia, hemochromatosis, hemophilia, thalassemia, and von Willebrand disease.

Related Information



  1. Canadian Hypertension Education Program (2011). 2011 Canadian Hypertension Education Program (CHEP) recommendations for the management of hypertension. Available online: http://hypertension.ca/chep/recommendations-2011.

Other Works Consulted

  • Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure (2003). Seventh Report of the Joint National Committee on Prevention, Detection, Evaluation, and Treatment of High Blood Pressure JNC Express (NIH Publication No. 03–5233). Bethesda, MD: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.


By Healthwise Staff
Primary Medical Reviewer E. Gregory Thompson, MD - Internal Medicine
Primary Medical Reviewer Donald Sproule, MD, CM, CCFP, FCFP - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical Reviewer Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD - Cardiology
Last Revised June 6, 2011

This information does not replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise, Incorporated disclaims any warranty or liability for your use of this information.