Children with High Blood Pressure and What To Do
The number of children with high blood pressure is on the rise, and many parents may not be aware this potentially deadly condition is affecting their child. Therefore moms and dads of young children and adolescents should take note of the risk factors and warning signs of hypertension and know what to do.
Approximately 67 million Americans have high blood pressure (1 in 3 adults) while nearly another one in three have prehypertension, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. These statistics can overshadow the fact that about 5 percent of the pediatric population also suffers from this serious yet insidious condition.
At Stony Brook Children’s Hospital on Long Island, New York, specialists in pediatric high blood pressure are making an effort to alert parents to the possibility of this serious health hazard in their young ones, the consequences of its presence, and explaining what can be done. The Hospital has the area’s first Pediatric Hypertension Center.
The first step is identifying whether a child has high blood pressure. Since hypertension has no obvious symptoms, parents should be proactive and have their child’s blood pressure checked, especially if the child is overweight or obese.
Excess body weight is a major risk factor for high blood pressure in children as well as in adults. Children who have diagnosed kidney problems or those who were born prematurely also are at risk.
Even though young children and adolescents who have high blood pressure typically are not at immediate risk of having a stroke or heart attack (although these events can happen), hypertension takes a significant toll on a developing body, including the heart and blood vessels. Thus children with untreated high blood pressure grow old before their time and are at significant risk of suffering not only stroke or heart attack at an early age but kidney disease, vision problems (including blindness), hardening of the arteries, and overall poor quality of life.
Checking your child’s blood pressure
Children should begin to have their blood pressure checked by age 3 years or even sooner if there are health problems (e.g., kidney disease, cardiovascular disease). If your child has not has his or her blood pressured checked before or the child tends to get nervous when it is taken, your doctor will likely take two or three readings so an average can be determined. In some cases, doctors use an ambulatory blood pressure device that a child wears all day so more accurate readings can be obtained.
Your child’s age, gender, height, and weight will be factored into deciding whether he or she has hypertension or is at risk. High blood pressure is defined as a pressure that is greater than the 95th percentile for a child’s age, height, and sex. That means 95 percent of children of the same sex, age, and height will have blood pressure less than this number.
If your child is found to have high blood pressure, pediatric nephrologists (specialists in children’s kidney problems) are the healthcare providers often recommended since they are adept at 24-hour blood pressure monitoring and the treatment plan required to bring the numbers down. Other specialists that can be involved in a child’s care include nutritionists, pediatric cardiologists, and pediatric endocrinologists, as well as counseling for the family.
High blood pressure in children can be treated with a combination of lifestyle changes that focus on weight loss, exercise, dietary modifications, and stress reduction. If there is an underlying health risk or condition, that needs to be addressed as well. Use of blood pressure medications should be avoided if possible unless the nondrug methods are not sufficient.
It is important to recognize and treat high blood pressure in children as soon as possible. Quick and effective action will help ensure these young people will go on to live healthier, fuller lives.