Blood pressure becoming a growing concern for kids

By Greg Hamilton • Published: October 3rd, 2017
Category: Health in a Heartbeat

You wouldn’t expect kids to have high blood pressure — that’s usually a problem that comes with being an adult. But high blood pressure in children is becoming increasingly common, so much so that the American Academy of Pediatrics recently revised their hypertension screening and treatment guidelines for physicians. The group set new standards for blood pressure measurements in youngsters to give doctors a more precise picture of what’s normal based on a child’s body size.

An estimated 3.5 percent of American kids have chronic high blood pressure, and the number could be even higher, because elevated blood pressure readings often go undetected and untreated. Undiagnosed hypertension in children and young adults puts them at risk for artery stiffening that increases their risk of heart attack and stroke.

A panel of experts reviewed nearly 15,000 articles on hypertension to develop the new guidelines. The panel reiterated the first step of treatment remains lifestyle changes, with a focus on diet and more physical activity, noting the rise in blood pressure in kids and adolescents corresponds with an increase in pediatric obesity. Salt intake is another important factor, so parents should be aware of what their kids are eating. If lifestyle changes are not enough, then medication should be used.

The authors said more research is needed to find whether there is a specific blood pressure level in childhood that predicts adverse outcomes, as there is in adults. They added that blood pressure measurements should be performed only at annual routine visits.

The takeaway for kids mirrors that of adults: more exercise, less stress and healthier eating habits.