If your blood pressure is notching above normal, it’s to your heart’s advantage to stop that trend as soon as possible.

New research shows that people with high blood pressure aren’t the only ones who run a greater risk of heart attacks and heart disease.

Those with “prehypertension” — the zone between normal and high blood pressure — also have higher-than-normal odds of having a heart attack or heart disease. The findings appear in Stroke.

The New Low for High Blood Pressure

The Good News

Blood pressure problems can be curbed. That can be a big help to your heart (and the rest of your body).

“If we were to eliminate prehypertension, we could potentially prevent about 47 percent of all heart attacks,” says researcher Adnan Qureshi, MD, in an American Stroke Association news release.

Qureshi directs the cerebrovascular program at the University of Medicine & Dentistry of New Jersey. He is also a professor at the university’s neurology and neurosciences department.

High Blood Pressure Rising, yet Often Ignored

What’s Prehypertension?

Here’s a quick guide to blood pressure terms:

—Systolic blood pressure is the first (or top) number

—Diastolic blood pressure is the second (or bottom) number.

—Hypertension is another word for high blood pressure.

—Normal blood pressure: Lower than 120/80

—Prehypertension: Systolic blood pressure of 120-139 and/or diastolic blood pressure of 80-89

—High blood pressure: 140/90 or higher

About 59 million people in the U.S. have prehypertension, says the news release.

Strategies to Prevent and Control High Blood Pressure

Do You Know Your Numbers?

Don’t know which category you’re in? You’ve got lots of company.

Nearly one in three people in the U.S. have high blood pressure. But a third of them don’t know it, according to the American Heart Association’s web site.

People with above-normal blood pressure may feel perfectly fine. Blood pressure problems often fly under the radar, without telltale symptoms.

But ignorance isn’t bliss, in this case. A quick, easy test can check blood pressure. You and your doctor can take things from there.

High Blood Pressure: The Invisible Risk

Heart Hazards

Qureshi and colleagues reviewed a decade of data. The numbers came from 5,100 participants in the Framingham Heart Study.

Those with prehypertension were 3.5 times more likely to have a heart attack and 1.7 times more likely to have heart disease than those with normal blood pressure.

Visit WebMD's Hypertension Health Center

Stroke Findings

Unlike high blood pressure, prehypertension was not linked to a higher risk of stroke, write the researchers.

“This is somewhat surprising, but it may be related to the small number of stroke events in the study,” says Qureshi.

Aggressive Approach?

“While we classically recommend lifestyle modifications such as weight control, regular physical activity, and changes in diet for people with prehypertension, these findings raise the question of whether we should treat prehypertensive patients more aggressively,” says Qureshi.

The researchers call for studies to test that idea. Meanwhile, work with your doctor to draft your own blood pressure plan.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

SOURCES: Qureshi, A. Stroke, Aug. 4, 2005; online edition. American Heart Association: “High Blood Pressure.” News release, American Stroke Association.