Formerly considered an adult disease, high blood pressure (hypertension) is being diagnosed in more and more children. An estimated 5 percent of children in the United States have high blood pressure, a condition in which the heart and blood vessels are being overworked.
High blood pressure can be caused by a number of factors, including salt intake, obesity, kidney problems or other diseases. Recent studies have found that the average blood pressure of American adolescents and teens is on the rise – a disturbing trend considering the long–term impact of high blood pressure on risk of heart disease.
High blood pressure levels are different for children than for adults. Whereas adult blood pressure levels are standard, children’s blood pressure readings are measured according to their height, gender and age. Children who have elevated blood pressure relative to their peers may be diagnosed with high blood pressure.
Physicians also take into consideration that children tend to express extremes of emotion, which affects blood pressure. If blood pressure is only temporarily high, treatment is not usually necessary. A diagnosis of high blood pressure in children usually requires that elevated readings be obtained on three separate tests, given weeks or days apart. The American Heart Association (AHA) currently recommends that children over the age of 3 receive yearly blood pressure measurements.
Once elevated blood pressure is confirmed, the treatment among children may be different than treatment for adults. In adults, most blood pressure is “essential,” or occurs without a known reason. By contrast, most elevated blood pressure in prepubescent children under 10 years of age is secondary to another, underlying cause. Among adolescents and teenagers, however, the number of patients afflicted with essential blood pressure rises.
It is important when dealing with children to determine if there is an underlying condition causing the high blood pressure and design a treatment for that condition. In recent years, obesity and being overweight have become a major health problem among adolescents and children, which is thought to be contributing to a rise in blood pressure across all age groups. This is especially dangerous because studies have shown that overweight children with high blood pressure are much more likely to become adult heart disease patients. Other conditions that may contribute to high blood pressure include kidney disease and endocrine disorders.
Medication is usually not prescribed for children unless there is significant high blood pressure or organ damage. A child or adolescent with high blood pressure should be treated by a pediatric cardiologist or a pediatrician with special knowledge and experience in the treatment of high blood pressure in this age group.