High Blood Pressure in Children
Children who test positive for high blood pressure (or hypertension) have blood pressure that is the same as or higher than 90 percent of children within the same age, height, and gender group, according to the Mayo Clinic. There is no standard blood pressure reading for all children as there is with all adults because children’s bodies have different “normal” blood pressure ranges at various stages of growth. However, since some factors make certain children more likely to develop high blood pressure than others, it is important to know if your child is at risk.
Children under age 10 usually have high blood pressure that is caused by another medical condition (this is also known as secondary hypertension). Some of the medical conditions that can cause high blood pressure are chronic kidney disease, type 1 diabetes, heart problems and hyperthyroidism. Older children are more likely to develop high blood pressure that has no underlying medical condition (this is also known as essential hypertension). Risk factors for developing this type of hypertension include obesity, lack of exercise, high cholesterol, too much sodium in the diet and type 2 diabetes.
Although many children with high blood pressure notice no symptoms, some may experience chest pain, headaches, sleeping problems, trouble concentrating and fatigue. Severely high blood pressure may cause a child to experience blurred vision, confusion and shortness of breath.
Children with high blood pressure are at risk of experiencing sleep apnea, which causes them to have trouble breathing normally during sleep. According to the Mayo Clinic, children with sleep-related breathing disorders like sleep apnea are also overweight. One major concern regarding children with blood pressure is that if they do not receive treatment they are likely to have high blood pressure through childhood and into adulthood. Chronic high blood pressure puts a person at risk for having a stroke, heart failure, heart attack, loss of vision and kidney disease.
A pediatrician may recommend that a child with pre-hypertension or stage 1 hypertension (slight or moderate) make lifestyle changes, including getting more exercise, having a heart-healthy diet (balanced with less sodium), and a set weight loss plan, before he prescribes any medication. However, blood pressure medication may be prescribed to children with severely high blood pressure (stage 2), or children with blood pressure that has not responded to lifestyle changes.
When to Test
Though pediatricians usually check blood pressure in children over age three in routine check-ups and during sick patient visits, your child may have a condition that increases his risks of high blood pressure. If he was premature, had a low birth weight, or was born with congenital heart disease and urinary or kidney problems, he may need to get his blood pressure checked starting in infancy. If your child has high blood pressure risk factors (for example, if he is obese and/or has a poor diet) he may also need to get his blood pressure checked more frequently.