What You Need to Know to Prevent Hypertension

By Andrew Yocum, MD
Medically reviewed checkmarkMedically reviewed
February 28, 2022

Nearly half of American adults have high blood pressure, also called hypertension.

Even though it is common, high blood pressure is dangerous: Hypertension can lead to serious medical conditions like heart disease and stroke.

Fortunately, if you’re diagnosed with high blood pressure, you can lower it with medication, lifestyle changes, or both.

But it’s usually easier to prevent high blood pressure than to treat it.

So if you’re concerned about developing hypertension, talk to your doctor about how to prevent it. 

In this article, I’ll explain what hypertension is, and how to prevent high blood pressure with lifestyle changes. Finally, I’ll explore when to see a doctor for hypertension. 

What is Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)?

Your arteries and blood vessels carry blood, oxygen, and nutrients to all of your organs and tissues.

Blood pressure is the force with which your blood pushes against your artery walls.

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, occurs when your heart pumps more blood through narrower arteries. 

Your blood pressure reading consists of two numbers:

  • Systolic blood pressure: The top number on your BP reading, this measures the level of pressure in the arteries each time the heart beats (squeezes).
  • Diastolic blood pressure: The bottom number on your reading, this measures the level of pressure in the arteries when the heart is resting between beats. 

Your blood pressure reading includes both of these numbers measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg), and is usually represented as a fraction.

“Normal” blood pressure is traditionally 120/80 mm Hg. You may have heard this as “120 over 80.”

It’s normal for your blood pressure to rise and fall throughout the day, and one high reading doesn’t necessarily mean you have hypertension.

If you have more than two readings higher than 140/90 mm Hg, you may be diagnosed with high blood pressure. 

Over time, hypertension can heighten your risk for serious medical conditions, including heart attack, heart failure, kidney damage, and stroke.

Because high blood pressure does not always cause symptoms, it’s important to keep up with your primary care visits. 

If your doctor is concerned about your blood pressure levels, they may recommend medication, lifestyle changes, or a combination of both to reduce your risk of medical complications. 

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How to Prevent High Blood Pressure

Sometimes, high blood pressure stems from another medical cause, such as pregnancy or kidney disease.

This is called secondary hypertension.

Hypertension can also develop over time due to a combination of unhealthy lifestyle factors. This is called essential hypertension.

Whether you’re approaching high blood pressure or you just want to lower your risk, it’s possible to prevent essential hypertension.

Your doctor can recommend ways to protect yourself from high blood pressure.

The following are some of the most significant lifestyle factors that contribute to healthy blood pressure levels.

Exercise

Exercise can help you lose weight and manage your stress, both of which are helpful for preventing hypertension.

To prevent high blood pressure, try to incorporate more physical activity into your life. 

The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes per week of moderate intensity aerobic activity. Brisk walking, running, biking, or playing sports can help you reach this goal.

Even gardening or dancing that get your heart rate up count as moderate exercise. 

Healthy diet

What you eat can directly impact your heart health and your blood pressure. Fatty foods, sugar-laden foods, and processed foods can increase your risk of hypertension.

Focus on a diet that includes vegetables and fruits, whole grains, and lean meats like chicken and fish. 

Lowering your salt intake can also help prevent or reduce high blood pressure. Too much salt can cause you to retain water, which can in turn increase your blood pressure.

Aim to consume less than 1,500 milligrams (mg) of salt each day. Adding less table salt to food may help, as can paying close attention to sodium on food labels. 

Stop smoking

In addition to affecting your lungs, tobacco can also contribute to high blood pressure because it can cause plaque to build up in your arteries.

If you smoke, talk to your doctor about how to quit. 

Limit alcohol intake

Even light drinking has been shown to increase a person’s risk of hypertension. If you’re an otherwise healthy adult and want to drink alcohol, limit your intake to 1-2 alcoholic beverages a day at most.

Regulate weight

Weight isn’t always an indicator of health, but in some cases, being overweight can cause your heart to work harder and increase your blood pressure.

If you are overweight and at risk for developing hypertension, your doctor may recommend weight loss if appropriate. Even losing 10 pounds can help lower your blood pressure.

If you’re trying to lose weight, your doctor can suggest ideas to do so. Weight-loss tools like healthy diet and exercise can also help to keep your blood pressure at healthy levels. 

Reduce stress

When you’re stressed, your body releases hormones that can cause your heart to pump faster and your blood vessels to narrow, which can result in high blood pressure.

If you consider yourself an anxious person or you’re going through a stressful situation, your doctor, or a psychotherapist, can recommend coping tools. Some of the most effective ways to reduce stress levels include: 

  • Meditation and mindfulness 
  • Deep breathing exercises
  • Exercise, such as yoga
  • Journaling about your thoughts and feelings
  • Simplifying your schedule
  • Keeping a consistent sleep routine
  • Eating a nutritious diet

If lifestyle changes don’t help, your doctor may recommend psychotherapy or medication to manage your anxiety and stress levels. 

Sleep better

Lack of sleep can affect your mood, your immune system, and even your blood pressure. When you’re sleeping, your blood pressure usually decreases.

Sleep problems can cause your blood pressure to remain higher for longer periods of time, which can increase your risk for hypertension. 

Most adults need about seven hours of sleep each night. To ensure you get proper sleep, try: 

  • Keeping your bed and wake times consistent 
  • Avoiding screen time before bed 
  • Keeping your bedroom cool, dark, and comfortable
  • Exercising during the day (but not a few hours before bed)
  • Getting outdoors during the day
  • Avoiding caffeine too late in the day  
  • Limiting alcohol consumption before bed time
  • Limiting sugary foods before bed time

If you are still struggling with sleep after trying these suggestions, talk to your doctor about how to get better rest. Your provider may also want to rule out other conditions that can interfere with sleep.

If you snore, talk to your doctor about sleep apnea, as this has been shown to increase your risk of hypertension.

Limit caffeine

Caffeine can cause a short-term spike in blood pressure. In some people, excessive caffeine intake can keep blood pressure levels high for too long.

This may increase the risk of hypertension and associated medical conditions. 

Generally, up to 400 milligrams (mg) per day of caffeine is safe for otherwise healthy people. If you’re worried about your blood pressure, talk to your doctor about your caffeine intake.

It may help to limit your caffeine to 200 milligrams a day or less—that’s about two eight-ounce cups of coffee. 

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When to See a Doctor

Keeping up with primary care visits is an important part of hypertension prevention. Your doctor or another clinician should take your blood pressure at your appointments.

They will let you know if your readings are concerning, and suggest ways to keep your blood pressure at healthy levels. 

Call 9-1-1 right away if you think you may be experiencing a hypertensive emergency, which is when your blood pressure reaches levels so high it can damage your organs.

Signs to watch out for include: 

  • Severe chest pain 
  • Severe headache
  • Confusion and blurred vision
  • Numbness, weakness, or slurred speech 
  • Nausea and/or vomiting 
  • Shortness of breath 
  • Anxiety
  • Seizures

If you don’t have any symptoms but you experience a rise in blood pressure that’s concerning to you, then you should also check in with your doctor. 

How K Health Can Help

Did you know you can get affordable primary care with the K Health app?
Download K to check your symptoms, explore conditions and treatments, and if needed text with a doctor in minutes. K Health’s AI-powered app is HIPAA compliant and based on 20 years of clinical data.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can hypertension be reversed?
Hypertension is treatable. If you are diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor will recommend the best treatment for you, whether medication, lifestyle changes, or both. That said, it’s easier to treat hypertension earlier on.
What is the main cause of hypertension?
Essential hypertension, or hypertension that occurs gradually over time, isn’t associated with a direct medical cause. Instead, lifestyle factors like an unhealthy diet, lack of exercise, stress, and too much sodium usually contribute to essential hypertension. Secondary hypertension is usually caused by another condition, like pregnancy or kidney disease. Your doctor can help you identify the cause of your hypertension if you have it.
Will water intake help to lower blood pressure?
Staying hydrated is an important component of overall health, but drinking water won’t instantly lower your blood pressure. Instead, aim to combine ample water intake with other healthy lifestyle factors, like nutrition, exercise, and stress management.

K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.

Andrew Yocum, MD

Dr Andrew Yocum is a board certified emergency physician. He graduated Summa Cum Laude from Kent State University with a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology before attending Northeast Ohio Medical University where he would earn his Medical Doctorate (MD).